The United States is a great and proud nation which welcomes people from all over the world to experience the American work ethic and way of life. As a visitor to the USA, you’ll follow in the footsteps of millions of Irish people who contributed to the creation of the nation. You’ll also have ridiculous fun. That’s what the pursuit of happiness is all about.

The Union of Students in Ireland in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has produced this guide to help working and living in the United States with a Working Holidays Arrangement (J1) visa, which is aimed at giving you the opportunity to experience American culture while working in the US for the summer. We’ll cover some things that you might find useful as you plan the J1 trip of a lifetime.

Let’s get started!


Somewhere to Live

Arranging accommodation before travelling can be a good option – just make sure you are dealing with a legitimate rental agency or landlord. Companies offering J1 visas will give you advice on places to stay. Advice from friends can be helpful but may not be up to-date. It’s always a good idea to check with the local Irish Immigration or Outreach Center.

Another option is to book temporary accommodation in a motel or an AirBnb first. This will give you a chance to get to know an area and figure out what longer-term accommodation option suits you best. Be sure to avoid dealing with hucksters when looking for accommodation as some Irish students have been caught out badly in recent years: some students were stung by a rental scam where they were asked to wire money for advance payment of rent to someone posing as a landlord before they traveled to the US. Guess what – no apartment on arrival, and no deposit either.

Other complaints have featured students meeting someone who shows them an empty apartment which the student pays for as it appears legitimate. When the student then turns up to move in they find out the person they had been dealing with had no authorisation to rent out the apartment or had taken deposits from multiple people for one apartment. Get a receipt with a signature – you have been warned!

Just like in Ireland, you have a responsibility to look after and care for the accommodation you’re living in when you’re in the USA. Remember if there’s an issue – no matter who else may be involved – if you signed the lease you are liable. In recent years, horror stories of students having done serious damage to accommodation has made it less likely that landlords will rent to Irish students – let’s do our bit to show that Irish students are worth trusting.

If accommodation is accidentally damaged promptly report it to the landlord – if you break a glass or smash a mug, replace it.

If something goes wrong in the accommodation, like hot water breaking down or an air conditioner not working, make sure the landlord knows, so they can get it fixed and they know it wasn’t your fault.

Take pictures of the apartment before you move in and agree with the landlords to its conditions and contents.


If you’re booking accommodation after arriving in the USA, make sure you see the apartment and meet your future roommates before you put any money down, and bring someone with you if you don’t feel completely safe visiting an apartment on your own. Be aware that some housing is very cheap for a reason!

If you are having trouble finding accommodation, consider contacting local colleges to see if you can rent a dorm room over the summer. Another option may be to contact an Irish Immigration and Outreach Center if there is one locally. (They may also help with looking for a job.) Bring references from previous landlords and/or employers.

Here are some useful tips

• Don’t sign a lease unless you’ve read and understood all of it. Get a receipt. Don’t pay by cash if possible.
• Double check the amount of the deposit, rent in advance and monthly rent.
• Check the locks on doors and windows. Make sure you know who else has a key.
• Check appliances to see that they work.
• Are there any bills you will have to pay on top of rent? What happens if another tenant leaves owing rent or utility bills?
• Ensure there’s an inventory of all utensils and equipment in the accommodation signed by both you and the landlord.
• Where you have concerns regarding the condition of any item in the apartment, raise this in writing to your landlord/agent when you move in.
• Take photos before you move in and time stamp them– when you’re moving out you may need them to prove that any damage was there before you arrived.
• Be a good tenant: clean up your mess and be conscious of others living with or around you.


Ensure all rent is paid up to date as you leave. This is important; you may have problems re-entering the USA if there are outstanding bills.

If there is anything missing or damaged it must be replaced. Have the landlord or the letting agent come to see the place before you go so as to avoid disputes or misunderstandings.

Before you go to the USA

Finding a Job

It’s now necessary to find a job before you can get your J1 visa from USIT or SAYIT, the two main J1 Travel Agents. This may sound like a challenge but it’s quite doable – it just takes some planning.

The most important thing is to get started as soon as possible. Be resourceful – talk to recent J1-ers, friends who’ve emigrated or any Irish-American relatives you have. Use the web – everything from job sites to social media. If you find a job independently, make sure you submit it for vetting as soon as possible. The J1 sponsors are also running job placement programmes, with virtual and real jobs fairs with interested companies being held. So get your American-style resume written and submitted to them as soon as you can.

Remember that all J1 jobs must be seasonal in nature and should allow you to enjoy the cultural experience of being in the US and bear in mind that the local Irish consulate will not be able to assist on the job hunt. You’re not allowed to take a job that’s potentially hazardous, any jobs in the fishing/ ranching/farming industries or one where you’d risk bringing the reputation of the programme into disrepute. A full list of prohibited jobs is available here:

Once you’ve got your job sorted, you can focus on planning the rest of your dream trip!


Make sure you take out adequate travel insurance before leaving Ireland. The company you are travelling with will be able to help you with this.

Read your insurance policy closely. Total headmelt yes, but you’d never know what sort of exclusions could be lurking in the small print. You need to know what you are covered for – and what you’re not. This is your responsibility and yours alone.

Healthcare in the USA is very expensive. If your insurance doesn’t pay up, you can incur massive bills, these are hugely expensive and paid for in a way very different to Ireland. While the Irish Embassies and Consulates in the USA will do what they can to assist if you fall ill or are injured, they cannot cover your medical expenses. It is a good idea to check out the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Travel advice page before travelling, which can be found at travel-advice/a-z-list-of-countries/united-states-ofamerica/.

Be aware that your insurance policy may not cover your medical bills etc., if the injury you suffer happened while you were drunk. Be sure, too, to check what the policy’s definition of drunk is. Chances are it’s not the same as yours.

Bear in mind other drink-related issues too: if you are involved in an incident in a bar, for example, and you are under the age of 21 this may affect what you can expect your policy to cover. Being in the bar may itself constitute ‘illegal behaviour’ for which your policy could have an exclusion. Again, it is your responsibility to read and understand your insurance policy – so read it!

Be aware that some dangerous activities (scuba diving, skiing, off-road driving etc.) won’t be covered by standard insurance policies.

Be aware that some medical expenses (repatriation of a sick or injured person, or remains) may not be covered by all insurance policies.

In short, Get good Travel Insurance!


Once you're in the USA

You’re an Ambassador

This is not literally true, but as an Irish citizen visiting the United States, you are the best example to US citizens of what Ireland is today. Have a good time, enjoy your stay in the USA, and leave them knowing that Irish people are good to work with, great to socialise with and nice to know.

Social Security

All J1 students need to apply for and receive a Social Security Number by visiting their local Social Security Office. Speak to either USIT or SAYIT for advice on how and when to apply.

To avoid delays it is important to register your US address with SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor System) as soon as possible. Wait two days after you register in SEVIS and then apply for a Social Security number. See The website is only valid for those who travel through USIT/CIEE

Take Enough Money

It could take a couple of weeks before you’re paid or you get your Social Security Number, so bring enough money to cover yourself until then. This includes enough to cover a deposit for accommodation, and possibly rent in advance.

Don’t keep all your money in one place. Make sure any ATM cards you take have the Visa or Mastercard logos, and remember withdrawal limits apply in the USA.

Prepaid credit cards are available from many US convenience chain stores like Walgreens or CVS and are a good temporary option before you open a bank account. They can be registered so if lost they can be replaced.

It is also a good idea to inform your Irish bank that you are going Stateside for the summer too.

Carrying ID

Some states may insist you carry ID at all times. A police officer may stop and ask you to identify yourself if she believes you are engaged in criminal activity. Passports are seriously valuable documents for criminals, and a big headache for J1 students every year. Keep them safe. A good idea is to carry a photocopy of your Passport ID page in your wallet or bag.

If your passport is stolen, report it to the police straight away and apply for replacement travel documentation at the nearest Irish Embassy or Consulate (see details below). Always keep a photocopy of the ID page of your passport in a secure place in case you have to apply for a replacement passport. Store a photo of the page on your phone and e-mail too.

Depending on the type of replacement travel document required, you may also need to provide other documents, e.g. alternative forms of ID (e.g. college ID, driver’s licence), passport photos, travel tickets, police report confirming that you have reported the passport lost/stolen etc. Please contact the nearest Irish Embassy or Consulate for an application form, details of the required documents, and of the fee you will have to pay.

Be advised through that the local consulate will not be able to issue an emergency document using a photocopy of your lost/stolen passport. You will need to provide another form of current identification such as drivers licence, age card or an Irish passport card.

Remember that across the US the legal age to buy a drink is 21 – you’ll need ID to be served in a bar, even if you look 30.

If you’re under 21 don’t even think about tinkering with your passport to try to change the date of birth. Falsifying or altering an Irish passport is a criminal offence under Irish law and a federal offence in the US, punishable by fine, imprisonment and/ or refusal of future entry to America. It can also affect your ability to get a passport in the future.

For safety and security reasons there are restrictions on J1s travelling to Mexico – especially to Tijuana. Check with your sponsoring agency what restrictions may apply to you and if you have travel insurance. If you travel to Mexico and lose your passport there, you’ll be in real difficulties – you won’t be allowed re-enter the US without a valid machine readable passport. And there ain’t no Irish Consulate in Tijuana.

Legal Issues

The United States is a free country,which means, as US satirist PJ O’Rourke put it: “the right to do as you damn well please. And the duty to take the consequences.” As an Irish citizen in the United States, you are bound by US law. If you’re arrested you’ll have to go through the local justice system, which can be more strict than Irish law and could mean fines, jail and likely deportation and exclusion, and crucially could adversely affect your chances of getting back to the US down the line.

Claiming ignorance of US law is no defense, but be aware that if you are arrested you’re entitled to consular assistance. Pleading that things might be different at home won’t get you anywhere. And be aware that some US laws change from city to city and State to State. For example it’s illegal to drink in public or outside and the police strictly enforce those rules!

Drugs offense and public order offences are treated very seriously in the United States due to a zero tolerance policy.

It shouldn’t even need to be said, but any temptation to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme and then find a job should be resisted – it’s illegal and would open a plethora of insurance and other issues, including a ban on future travel to the USA.

It is really important for you to familiarise yourself with the laws that will directly affect you during your stay in the US. However, if a friend is planning on visiting you on an ESTA, please strongly encourage them to get insurance before traveling. Always use your common sense and whenever you suspect something might be illegal, check with the local authorities! You do not want to endanger your experience by committing an illegal act that could have easily been avoided.

If you do fall foul of the law, you may wish to consult an appropriately qualified attorney, particularly in the case of more serious charges.

Keeping in touch with your Sponsoring Agency

Remember that long Terms & Conditions form you signed? Yes, that. One of the conditions set by the State Department is that you must keep your US Sponsoring Agency up-to-date on your job and whereabouts. You’re expected to report in to the Agency every 30 days to confirm that your employment and living details haven’t changed.

You’ll also need to contact your Sponsoring Agency if you want to change your job, as they’ll have to vet it first, and to advise them within 10 days if you switch to different accommodation. It’s important to contact them before you leave the US too, so they’ll know you kept to the rules and didn’t overstay.

This may all sound like a pain, but it’s important. The US doesn’t play around when it comes to staying visa-compliant and your Sponsoring Agency are entitled to cancel your programme if you don’t follow the rules. Sticking to the conditions you signed up to will pay off if a ‘real job’ offer in the US comes through in a few years’ time…

You can contact the main Sponsoring Agencies at the following addresses:

Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE):

Telephone: 1-888-268-6245 (Free phone number within the USA)


Website: http://redirect.state.sbu/?url=http://www.

International Exchange of Notrh America (IENA):

Phone: 1 -908-628-0527
Toll free: (888) 724-4292

Exiting and Reentering the US

The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade strongly advises against leaving and re-entering the United States during your J1, unless there are compelling reasons for doing so. Students have encountered particular difficulties crossing the US-Canada and US-Mexico borders, which has sometimes led to deportation and an end to their J1 visa. This will permanently impact on your ability to travel to the US in the future.

Participants in a J1 programme must also ensure that their sponsor permits temporary travel outside the United States while on a J1 programme. For students travelling to the southern United States, you should familiarise yourself with the most up to date travel advice for Mexico from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (

The Department advises Irish citizens in Mexico to exercise a high degree of caution. There have been more than 50,000 drug-related murders in Mexico since 2006 and currently drug-related violence remains high in many parts of the country.

Visitors should exercise extreme caution in Mexican states along the northern border, including Baja California Norte, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Tamaulipas and Nueva Leon, as drug and gang related violence is a common occurrence and the security situation has deteriorated in recent years. Visitors should avoid driving at night and should monitor the media and other local sources of information about security incidents and safety risks.

Keep up to date with the latest travel advice on

We strongly discourage any travel to Greater Tijuana Metropolitan Area (Including Rosarito) but if it is absolutely necessary check with your sponsor agency before traveling.

There have been a number of violent incidents on the main road between San Cristobel and Palenque, Chiapas, which have affected European tourists. Visitors should exercise extreme caution when visiting this area.

Air travel should be favoured for travel to and within the northern border and Pacific states unless the safety of your preferred road route has been confirmed.

The security situation is particularly volatile in the south western Pacific states of Michoacan and Guerrero and in the northern state of Tamaulipas. We advise against non-essential travel to these states except for the cities of Morelia (Michocán), and Acapulco, Taxco and Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo (Guerrero). In relation to Acapulco, the homicide rate remains very high and tourist zones are increasingly affected by violence.

If you travel to Mexico and lose your passport there, you will be in real difficulty – immigration controls have tightened considerably and you won’t be allowed re-enter the US without a valid machine readable passport. There is no Irish Consulate in Tijuana and Mexico City is a 3 hour flight away.

Irish citizens who travel outside the US while participating in a J1 programme should expect to be subject to standard immigration procedures on reentering the US.

This travel advice is updated frequently and is also available via the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade TravelWise app.

Drug Offence

Drugs offences and public order offences are treated very seriously in the United States due to a zero tolerance policy. In relation to marijuana, which has recently been legalised in some US States, travellers should be aware that while marijuana/cannabis is legal to buy in some states, it is a federal offence to carry it across state borders.

This means that anyone caught in possession of marijuana while crossing a state border can face deportation and this may permanently end their ability to travel to the US in the future.

Please bear in mind that while the personal use of marijuana has been legalised in some states , such as California, it has not been legalised on the federal level. Your visa is issued by the Federal Government.

Damage to Property

Regrettably, in a small number of cases, landlords have had negative experiences with J1 student tenants, involving anti-social behaviour and, in a number of cases, significant and costly damage to property. Such behaviour is taken very seriously and will not be tolerated by the US authorities. These very regrettable cases have often had a high profile and reflect bed on Irish citizens, not just J1 students. Remember that you are representing your country as well as yourself when you are on a J1.   The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade will not be in a position to intervene, beyond providing consular assistance, if the US authorities decide to take action against J1 students in such instances.


If you’re planning to driving, be aware that cars drive on the right side of the road but otherwise road safety conditions are fairly similar to Ireland.

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driving licence and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law and you risk being detained, fined or banned from driving if caught.
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags kept out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you’re stopped at traffic lights

If you plan on using Electronic Scooter Rental please be sure to follow the safety instructions and NEVER to use the scooter under the influence of alcohol.


Crime remains relatively low in the US but you should take sensible precautions.

  • Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together – leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place
  • Limit the amount of cash you carry by using travellers’ cheques, Euro cheques or international credit cards
  • Don’t carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home
  • Avoid showing large sums of money in public and don’t use ATMs after dark, especially if you are alone. Check no one has followed you after conducting your business
  • Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafes, train and bus stations
  • Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible
  • Keep a lookout for people acting suspiciously or unattended packages in public places
    • If you’re a victim of a crime while in the US, report it to the local police immediately. And you can contact us at the Irish Embassy in Washington DC and the Irish Consulates in Austin, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

More advice on Safety and Security can be found on

Anti-Social Behavior

There have been issues of students on J1 visas being accused of anti-social behaviour in recent years. This has caused damage to our reputation, as well as deterring employees and landlords from offering jobs and accommodation to the next group of J1 students.

Let’s face it, we all know exactly what anti-social behaviour is – or we’d be quick enough to shout about it if we had the neighbours from hell. The best idea is to avoid behaving in a way that causes hassle to your neighbours or the people around you, creates damage or trouble, etc. Remember that you are representing your country as well as yourself when you are on a J1

The J1 experience can be one of the best times in your life but things can easily go from great to awful if you don’t abide by the law, and anti-social behaviour is a sure-fire way to attract the attention of the police. Here are some simple dos and don’ts to keep in mind if you’re having a party.


  • Do have respect for your neighbours. Make sure you talk to your neighbours and have an agreed time when the party will be over. Make sure you respect that agreement.
  • Do try and keep the party inside and keep windows and doors CLOSED.
  • Do co-operate if the neighbours complain – their next call could be to the police.
  • Do keep the noise down going from the party to town, especially when everyone is getting into taxis.


  • Don’t let people in that you don’t know – a sure way to lose control quickly.
  • Don’t leave your windows open with music on. Noise travels!
  • Don’t be rude or hostile if people ask you to keep it down.
  • Don’t allow underage drinking, remember the legal drinking age in the US is 21.

Staying out of bother and Personal Safety

You won’t know the lay of the land in a new city, but you can compensate for lack of local knowledge by not taking unnecessary chances.

When at all possible at night walk in a group, and stick to busy streets with lots of lighting and traffic. Do not take dodgy shortcuts. Try to avoid talking on your mobile or listening to your phone, as either will make you less aware of your surroundings and also advertise that you have something worth stealing.

Always make sure someone knows when you’re going out, if and when you’re coming back, and with whom you’ll be. When you’re on your way home, let someone know when to expect you.

Some Useful Tips

  • If you think you’re being followed, go somewhere busy and flag down a taxi. Downloading ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft would also be a good shout!
  • Only use licensed taxis and hackneys. Take note of the taxi licence number and key it into your phone or text it to a friend.
  • When you arrive at your destination ask the driver to wait until you get inside the door before leaving again. Don’t accept lifts from strangers.
  • Beware of interesting strangers offering to take you to the hottest new late bar on an isolated street. All great fun till you’re held up and robbed.
  • Don’t be afraid to act assertively if you are uncomfortable or if you think someone is acting inappropriately.
  • Keep an eye on your drinks.
  • Always be aware of who’s around you when you go to an ATM. Do not use ATMs at night on isolated streets – always choose those with good lighting.
  • Keep an eye out for your friends. Stick together and don’t let someone get separated from the group, especially if they’ve been drinking. Make sure everyone gets home safely – even that idiot you’ve had a massive row with and who you’re never going to speak with again.
  • If you are the victim of a crime report it to the local police immediately.
    – 911 for emergency services
Leaving the USA


Filing your Tax

Don’t forget to file for your US tax refund. As a J1 Visa holder, you are obligated by law to file a US tax return no matter how small your earning are. Your tax return must be filed between Jan 1st and mid April. The average US tax refund is $850 so it’s well worth applying. Also as a J1 student their are some deductions that you are not required to pay, contact your Visa sponsor for more information on this.

But close your US bank accounts in case fees might attach to accounts left open

Moving out of your Accommodation

Ensure all rent is paid up to date as you leave. This is important; you may have problems re-entering the USA if there are outstanding bills.

If there is anything missing or damaged it must be replaced. Have the landlord or the letting agent come to see the place before you go so as to avoid disputes or misunderstandings.

Important Contacts while on your J1

The Consular Assistance Charter

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides a range of help and support to citizens in distress abroad. The Consular Assistance Charter outlines what you should expect from them and steps that they strongly encourage Irish people travelling abroad to take.

They available and accessible 24/7 in Dublin, during office hours on +353 (0)1 4082527 or in case of an emergency out-of-hours on +353 (0)1 4082000

Consular Assistance Charter website can be found HERE 

 Consular Assistance Charter

Ireland in the USA

In addition to the Irish Embassy in Washington DC, Ireland has 6 consulates in the US.

Keep in mind where your nearest consulate is, as they may be very useful to you in case of difficulty:

AUSTIN +1 512 792 5500

ATLANTA +1 404 554 4980

BOSTON +1 617 267 9330

CHICAGO +1 312 337 2700

NEW YORK +1 212 319 2555

SAN FRANCISCO +1 415 392 4214

WASHINGTON +1 202 462 3939

Irish Immigration Centers are also a great resource and they’re located right across the US. You can contact the central Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers at or at +1 914 837 2007.

You can also find your local Center at

Feel free to contact USI back in Ireland too: we’re at Ceann Áras na Mac Léinn, 14 Mount Street Upper, Dublin 2.

Telephone: 01 7099300

TravelWise App
TravelWise is a free app from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It brings you user-friendly, trustworthy and in-depth travel advice straight to your phone.

You can subscribe to travel alerts for different countries so you can keep up to date with changes to our travel advice. TravelWise also gives you general advice by theme – for example advice for victims of crime abroad, LGBT travelers, what to do if you’re sick or injured, and much more. You can access the app’s content off-line, allowing you access abroad without roaming charges.

There’s also a handy checklist of things to do before you go. To download the TravelWise app, visit the Apple App Store or Google Play.

The user can favorite any countries to which they are travelling or thinking of visiting, to get significant security update from the Department instantly via push notification.

All content, once downloaded, is available offline including key emergency contact details – without the need for a data connection abroad and without incurring charges.

TravelWise Users have instant access to our global network of Embassies and Consulates.

TravelWise brings you our user-friendly, trusted and comprehensive travel advice straight to your phone. Any citizen traveling to a higher risk destination can register with the nearest Embassy, using the app. Registering means that in the event of an unforeseen crisis such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, the Department can proactively contact the citizen, ensure they are safe, update them on developments and provide assistance as necessary.

TravelWise provides security ratings for over 200 countries – a clear was for us to show you how safe or unsafe we believe a country may be to visit, and to help you make informed decisions about overseas travel.

Download here

Apple App Store –

Google Play Store –