Exchange at Penn Frequently Asked Questions

Preparing for Exchange 

Housing and Dining 


Health Considerations  


Student Life 

Preparing for Exchange 

Which student visa should I apply for?  

Exchange students can choose between an F-1 or J-1 visa. If you are on exchange at Penn through the School of Nursing, you must choose the F-1 visa due to clinical compliance. US citizens do not need a visa. Detailed instructions on how to obtain a visa are provided upon acceptance.

Key points for exchange students to consider in selecting a visa status: 

  • Once you have entered the US as F-1 or J-1, it is generally not possible to change status. It is key that you make an informed decision from the outset. 
  • Students who are only at Penn for one semester will not be eligible for any work authorization after their program if they are in F-1 status.
  • F-1 students may receive Penn-issued immigration documents electronically, potentially reducing administrative delays and shipping fees compared to J-1 students. 
  • For questions regarding choosing between a F-1 or J-1 visa, please refer to Penn ISSS.

When should I arrive on campus? 

Exchange students participate in a mandatory orientation program before classes begin. Specific dates are announced approximately 4 months before the semester begins. We recommend students fly into Philadelphia International Airport, which is located close to the university.  

I won’t arrive on campus until nighttime. Can I still access my housing?  

Yes, housing check-in is possible 24 hours a day. Please review additional move-in tips

What is covered during mandatory exchange student orientation? 

Students learn about campus resources to help them acclimate to studies and life at Penn. Students will go through a visa check-in process, learn about opportunities, events, safety, and more while getting to know fellow exchange students.   

What is the weather like in Philadelphia? What should I pack?  

The weather varies. In the winter, it can be very cold, snowy, and windy, sometimes not getting above 32°F (0°C) for weeks. Some winters, however, rarely get below freezing. August and September can be very hot, with temperatures over 100°F (38°C) and high humidity. October, November, April, and May tend to be mild. Penn provides a useful packing list, but we recommend students purchase dorm room, bathroom, and personal items upon arrival. Consider clothing layers when packing.  

How can I connect with previous exchange students to learn more?  

Contact Recent Exchange Students to learn about their experience at Penn.   

Housing and Dining 

Are exchange students required to live on campus?  

Yes. Exchange students are guaranteed housing on campus but must indicate their housing preferences through an application provided after acceptance. Housing is managed by Student Residential Services

What is included in on-campus housing?   

Students generally share a room and common areas. Exchange students are rarely placed in single bedroom units. Options, including amenities, can be found on the Student Residential Services website.  

During holiday breaks, will dormitories still be open?  

Dorms remain open during shorter breaks such as fall break, Thanksgiving break, and spring break. During winter break, between the fall and spring semesters, students must vacate their rooms but can apply to remain on campus. Please review information on winter breakmove-in dates, and move-out dates

Are exchange students required to have a meal plan?  

Yes. Meal plan options and information on dining halls can be found on the Penn Dining Services website.  

Can I have mail and packages sent to campus?  

Yes, students can receive mail and packages to their dorm. Penn also has Amazon@Penn on campus where students can pick up and return Amazon orders

When do I have to move out of my dormitory?  

Refer to the move-out dates. Exchange students cannot extend their stay past the move-out deadline.  


What are the estimated expenses associated with my exchange at Penn?  

Exchange students do not pay Penn tuition and academic fees. Please review the Costs to Consider section for estimated expenses while at Penn.  

How can bills be paid? When is my bill due? 

Several payment methods exist for your Penn bill. Since most exchange students do not have a US bank account, we recommend paying your bill by wire transfer. Please review the billing schedule. Some charges may appear before you arrive and after your first bill, so it is important to pay attention to your Penn.Pay account before arrival and throughout the semester.  

Does my student bill need to be paid all at once?  

No. Students may be eligible to set up a payment plan if requested by the enrollment deadline. However, any charges not paid by the due date of the billing cycle accrue late fees. 

Health Considerations  

Am I required to have health insurance while on exchange at Penn?  

Yes. Penn’s Student Health Services (SHS) requires students to enroll in a health plan that meets certain minimum insurance requirements. While the Penn Student Insurance Plan (PSIP) is a possibility, many students waive PSIP coverage and submit different insurance plan for approval, though home country insurance generally does not meet eligibility requirements. Penn Abroad does not administer health insurance compliance. 

How should I submit proof of immunization records? 

Students are required to submit proof of immunizations. A list of required immunizations are outlined by SHS. SHS also provides an Immunization Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. If you are unable to get certain immunizations prior to arrival, you can get them while at Penn, though they may be more expensive than in your home country. Penn Abroad does not administer immunization compliance.  

What services are available on campus if I am feeling sick?  

Student Health Services (SHS) provides many health services by appointment, with initial costs covered by the required clinical fee.     

What services are available on campus to support mental health, disability, and wellness?  

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) supports students via individual and group appointments, drop-in meetings, Let’s Talk, and a 24/7 phone service. Support for international students is available, as well. Student Disability Services (SDS) offers many resources and support options for students; please alert SDS and/or Penn Abroad to any disability after acceptance.   


What is the academic style of learning at the University of Pennsylvania?   

The American higher education system’s instruction style may differ from your home institution. Students should expect continuous assessment throughout the semester, including homework, class discussion, essays, exams, and group work. Attending class and participating in discussions is often mandatory and part of your overall class grade.  

How many courses must I be enrolled in during the semester?  

Exchange students must be enrolled in a full-time course load to maintain visa status, which is between 4 and 5.5 credit units (CUs). Exchange students typically take 4 CUs each semester. Students should utilize the undergraduate course catalog and course roster when searching for course options. Details on how to enroll in courses are provided after acceptance. Students can add or drop courses up to the semester’s course selection deadline.  

Who should I speak to about academics and course selection?  

Every exchange student is assigned an academic advisor within their admitting school (College, Wharton, Engineering, Nursing).  

Are exchange students allowed to take courses outside of their admitting school?  

Yes, up to two courses outside of their admitting school per semester, as long as they have completed minimum pre-requisites for the course. 

As an exchange student, are there any restrictions on courses that I can take? 

Exchange students are not permitted to enroll in courses in Penn’s Law, Medical, Dental, or Veterinary Schools. Students generally cannot enroll in graduate-level courses, but in very rare circumstances, have been given permission.  

I am interested in a course that requires a pre-requisite. Am I still eligible for this course?  

Yes, as long as they can show proof that they have completed the equivalent of the pre-requisite courses at their home institution.  

What should I do if the course I wanted to enroll in is full or restricted to certain students?  

Select alternate courses for the time being, then check to see if the course becomes available, as students add and drop courses by the course selection deadline. PennCourseAlert can notify students immediately when a spot opens in a course. Students may need to obtain a permit to enroll in full or restricted courses from a professor or academic advisor either before or upon arrival. 

How do I find out how many credits I will receive for my exchange at Penn?  

Students should speak with their home institution to determine course equivalency and how many local credits will be earned while at Penn.  

Are there any academic resources available to me?  

Yes. In addition to professors’ office hours, the Weingarten Learning Resources Center offers Learning Resources, Student Disability Services, and Tutoring Services. Among many other services on campus, the Van Pelt Library and Weigle Information Commons also offer resources.  

How will my home university receive a transcript of my Penn grades? 

Transcripts are sent to home university coordinators via secure email approximately one month after the end of the semester. As long as a student’s bill is paid and all holds are cleared, transcripts are sent automatically. Students must request and pay for personal copies of their official transcript.  

Student Life 

Do exchange students have access to the same Penn resources as degree-seeking students? 

Exchange students do not pay tuition and associated fees but have access to most resources excluding gym membership or tickets to certain events, both of which can be purchased.  

How can I get involved on campus?  

Exchange students are encouraged to take advantage of Penn’s many student clubs and activities. The Office of Student Affairs provides resources and support for how to get involved outside of the classroom.  Students can also participate in exercise classes and campus recreation, attend sporting events, and participate in intramural sports.  

Does Penn Abroad offer any events? 

Yes. Our office hosts several events and excursions each semester that are free or low cost to allow exchange students to explore Philadelphia and American culture. 

What is the best way to get around Philadelphia and travel to other parts of the United States?  

International Student and Scholar Services provides information on getting around campus, Philadelphia, and the region. 

Can exchange students get a job while on exchange at Penn?  

Yes. However, international students can only work on campus, while US students can work anywhere.  

How safe is campus?  

While Philadelphia has some issues with crime, the campus area is protected by Penn’s Department of Public Safety, which offers numerous initiatives to protect students, including Penn Guardian and a 24/7 Walking Escort Service.  

What phone plan should I get?  

International Student and Scholar Services provides information on cell phones plans, though speaking with a recent exchange student can be beneficial.