Traveling to a new country for a short vacation can be stressful enough, but as someone studying long-term in an unfamiliar country, you can face extra challenges, especially when trying to connect to the internet.
Nearly a million international students studied in the U.S. during the 2021/22 school year. With internet-based classes and exercises, it’s nearly impossible to take a college course without having internet access.
Before you randomly pick an internet service provider (ISP) for your stay in the U.S., Allconnect’s guide will walk you through some important factors to consider.
If you are an international student living on a U.S. college campus, you will most likely have access to the institution’s internet service. Still, there are some things to know about equipment and security before you log in. If you pick an off-campus residence, we can help you find the right provider.
How internet works in the U.S.
America has private ISPs that compete in pricing and speed. Which provider is able to serve your location depends on the specific address. There are also several types of internet connections available:
- Cable – This standard internet service is delivered to your home by cables plugged into your modem/router. This is often the cheapest internet option, with some plans starting at $19.99/mo. The largest providers include Spectrum and Xfinity, with widespread availability.
- Fiber – This connection provides the fastest speeds available, with symmetrical upload and download speeds. The largest providers are Verizon Fios and AT&T.
- Fixed wireless (5G Home Internet) – Mobile companies like Verizon and T-Mobile provide 5G home internet that is affordable at $25 to $50/mo., plus there are no contracts. Speeds can hit up to 300 Mbps.
- Satellite – Known as slower and more glitchy than other connection types, satellite works well if you are in a rural part of the country without many options. It can be pricier than other types, however. The largest providers include HughesNet and Viasat, but Starlink is rapidly expanding service areas.
- Mobile hotspots – If you have an international cellphone plan with a hotspot added, you can use that to connect your devices to the internet. You wouldn’t need a separate internet plan, especially if you connect to the campus Wi-Fi while you are in classes, but just need an hour or two at night for emails and research.
Most major mobile phone companies have international data plans to consider if you plan to use your phone as a hotspot:
What to know before picking a U.S. internet plan
Several factors determine whether an internet connection and provider are right for you:
If you are in a home that is off-campus and you need internet, asking a neighbor or friend what service they use may give you a place to start, but just because someone nearby has internet through one ISP, it doesn’t mean that ISP serves your particular address. This is why most companies will ask you for your exact address before allowing you to see available plans. The type of internet they offer will vary according to your address as well.
Whether studying in the U.S. for six months or longer, you don’t want to be tangled in a long-term contract. Prices can also change dramatically at the end of a contract, so read all the fine print before you sign up. There are several no-contract internet providers available.
Some providers have cheaply priced internet plans with decent speeds, but they come with data caps. Those are hard limits on how much data you can use a month. There are usually penalty fees if you go over and your data will be de-prioritized until the new month. That means your connection will be noticeably slower. Some providers like HughesNet offer data tokens for an extra fee to keep you going until the month renews. You may see providers advertising a half or whole terabyte of monthly data as their cap. Unless you are hard-core gaming, you most likely will never reach that amount, so those plans would be fine to use.
Some providers require credit checks. They are judging how likely you are to pay your monthly bill and return any rented equipment to them when you move on. If your credit isn’t very established yet or has some issues, you may be required to pay a deposit.
If you sign up for internet service, there will be an option to rent (and sometimes it’ll be free) the provider’s equipment, like a modem, router or combined gateway device. You can also opt to purchase your own equipment, but you’d likely need to sell it before you return home if it isn’t compatible with your country’s connections.
Remember to bring any adapters or cables for your personal devices to connect to the supplied equipment. Ethernet cables will give you the fastest speed if you’d rather plug your device into a cable vs. setting up a Wi-Fi connection.
Using your college’s dorm internet
Dorm internet connections can have pitfalls to watch out for regarding speed and security.
If you live on campus and can access the college’s network, they may provide you with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or other remote-access security. Most of the time, you must use a provided identification and password.
However, larger networks like a college’s can be prone to security risks, so if they don’t provide you with security or threat protection, ensure you are using a VPN and/or device security programs.
As a new student, you’ll receive new emails from different sources as you get comfortable with your institution. Be hyper-vigilant about phishing emails and other scams – think before you click or download something you do not recognize.
A pitfall to using a college’s network can be the lack of a speedy connection. If your dorm room’s connection is routinely dragging, hardwire your computer with an Ethernet cable.
Also, look at the times you are accessing the internet; it could just be congestion if you are online at the same time as everyone else on campus. Adjusting your online hours may see a speed improvement.
If your school allows you to use your own router, you may want to consider purchasing your equipment, particularly a long-range router that can give you a stronger signal.
Is a slow connection still blocking you from your work? Check your speed to see what you are getting vs. what the college claims you should be seeing.
- Device connection limits – Some institutions limit how many devices you can keep connected on Wi-Fi. Pick and choose those carefully to make the most of the speed available.
- Blocked sites – Colleges may also have blockers in place for any website they deem unsuitable or harmful to their network. These can also include gaming sites.
Ready to purchase internet?
See Allconnect’s research hub for more information on broadband in the U.S.
Written by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
Robin Layton is an editor with Allconnect. She works closely with the content team writers to ensure consumers get a fair and balanced reporting of the state of broadband services to help them understand the pro… Read more
Edited by:Camryn Smith
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