Life in Boston

Find below a few tips and tricks for a smooth landing in Boston / Cambridge 🙂
For each section, we tried to link the relevant information from Harvard and MIT international scholars services. If you think that something is missing, feel free to submit your question using the form below and we’ll try to provide an answer as soon as possible.
But remember that you can also join our monthly Belgian drink and ask us your questions directly!

International Students and Scholars Offices

International Students and Scholars Services are the main points of contact and resources for all incoming and currently enrolled international students and scholars in your institution. They provide information and guidelines to follow throughout your stay in the US. The following section mostly contain links towards the corresponding information at Harvard and MIT International Offices and some tips and tricks.

HarvardHarvard International Office (HIO)
MITInternational Students Office (ISO) and International Scholars Office (ISchO)


Housing

Finding accommodation is probably the trickiest thing and the cost of living in the Boston/Cambridge area is quite high.

MIT and Harvard both have resources to help Students and Scholars to find accommodation, but usually you’ll have to conduct your housing search (hunt!) yourself.

General infirmation
Harvard
Harvard University Housing
MITMIT Housing and Residential Services

Off-campus portals (Harvard Off-Campus Housing and MIT Off-Campus Housing) gather some listings from private landlords and realtors (the properties do NOT belong to Harvard or MIT) and allow members of the respective communities to find potential roommates.

Craiglist is a (very active!) classified advertisement website that contains a section dedicated to housing. Hundreds of listings are posted everyday but beware of scams (see below).

Facebook groups are also a great place to start a housing/roomates hunt. Main groups include: Boston Housing, Rooms, Apartments, Sublets, Roommates, Roomster, Boston Housing, Boston Housing, Rooms, Apartments, Sublets, Harvard MIT Housing, etc.

Tips:

  • Beware of scams or misleading pictures. Do not make any payment without meeting the landlord or booking agency and without seeing the apartment. There are some scams at the websites and the pictures sometimes do not represent the reality.
  • You can consider staying at a friend’s place, renting an Airbnb or subletting a room for the first week (or more) to check the city, transports and apartments.
  • People arrive and leave Boston/Cambridge/… all the time so you can easily find accommodation at any point during the year. Lots of leases usually starts on June 1st or September 1st though.
  • Second-hand furniture can be found all-year round on craiglist and facebook groups.

Public transport

MBTA
The public transportation system in the Boston area is called the “T” and includes a system of subways, trolleys, buses, ferrys and trains. Subway and bus stops on the street are indicated by “T” street signs.

The information regarding the fares / passes, schedules and maps, we refer to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) website.

HarvardHarvard Transit Benefits
MITMIT Transit Benefits

Tips:

  • Harvard and MIT both provides discounted T-passes for Students and Scholars (see links above).
  • MIT Faculty, Postdoctoral Scholars and Staff actually have free, unrestricted use of the MBTA subway and local bus systems through the Access MIT pass embedded in your MIT ID card (no activation required).

Blue Bikes
Blue Bikes is public bike share system in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett and Somerville.
MIT – MIT provides a subsidized annual membership for MIT employees and students is $35 (regular price $99), visit Blue Bikes: Registration and renewal (MIT Certificates required).
Harvard – Harvard affiliates are eligible for a discounted Blue Bikes Annual Membership for only $70 (regular price $99), visit Blue Bikes Bike Share Program.

How to go to the city center from the airport?

  • Silver Line (free!) till South Station, where you can then hop (still for free!) on the red or orange subway “T” lines, which can take you to many places.
  • Massport shuttle buses (route 22, 33 or 55 to ‘MBTA Blue Line’) and then hop on the blue subway “T” line.
  • Taxi (expensive: $45-60 + tip).
  • Ride-sharing Apps Uber and Lyft (you can download the app and order a ride by using the airport free internet) which depending on the hours and the place to go can be from $17 to $35. You’ll have to walk 10 minutes to reach the pick-up locations in the parking garage (not the airport entrance), directions are well indicated.

Social Security Number (SSN)

A Social Security number (SSN) is a taxpayer identification number issued by the Social Security Administration. It does not represent permission to work and it is not proof of US citizenship or permanent residence. Individuals who are paid in the US must have a SSN to file an income tax return. Individuals who are not paid in the US but who are in a visa status that permits certain types of employment (e.g. J-1, F-1, or J-2 with EAD) are advised to obtain a SSN. Once obtained, a SSN remains valid and therefore may be used during future visits to the US.

SSN application form and instructions (ssa.gov) →
Harvard – SSN information on the HIO website
MIT – SSN information on the ISO and ISchO websites

Tips:

  • You need to take the original documents since they do not accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents.
  • In general, only non-citizens who have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can apply for a Social Security number.
  • They recommend that you wait 10 days after arriving to the US to apply for the Social Security number to make it easier to verify the several documents online.
  • Applying for a Social Security number and card is free.
  • Social Security Offices are often pretty busy, we recommend to arrive early in the morning and to be patient!

Banking and Money Matters

Harvard – Banking information on the HIO website
MIT – Banking information on the ISO and ISchO websites

Tips:

  • You may need a Social Security Number (SSN) and your offer letter / work contract to open a bank account or a credit card.
  • To retrieve money from an ATM machine you will need to do so from an ATM from your bank, if not you will pay a fee. Also, some banks only allow you to retrieve money up until 6 times without paying a fee.
  • As you open an account, you will first receive a debit card. After receiving your debit card, you can apply for a credit card.

Liquor ID

In the US, you must be at least 21 years old to be allowed to buy alcohol in bars, restaurants and liquor stores. The Belgian ID card is often NOT accepted as a valid proof of age and in order to avoid having to carry your passport with you at all times, we recommend to apply for a liquor ID. The card costs $25 and is issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).
Apply for a Liquor ID card and required documents (mass.gov) →

Tips: RMV Service Centers are often pretty busy, especially on Mondays and Fridays. For the Haymarket RMV Service Center, the wait time is actually available in real time here.


Spouses, Partners, & Children

HarvardHarvard Spouse Resources and Harvard Students Spouses and Partners Association (HSSPA)
MITMIT Spouses and Partners Connect

HarvardHarvard Child Care Resources
MITMIT Child Care Resources


Belgian Consulate and Embassy

Embassy in Washington
1430 K Street NW, Suite 101
Washington, D.C. 20005

Consulate General in New York
One Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, 885 Second Ave, 41st Fl
New York, NY 10017

Belgium also has an Honorary Consul in Massachusetts that facilitate procedures and contacts with the Consulate General in New York.
Ms. Anne Deconinck, Honorary Consul of Belgium
500 Main Street
MIT 76-143
Cambridge, MA 02142


Is something missing?

Feel free to submit your question and we’ll try to reach back to you quickly with an answer.