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International Student Services


Spouse Club

Spouse and Dependent Support

International Student Services welcomes spouses and dependents to USC. We know that moving to the United States can be stressful: a new city, new food, new language, new schools for your children, new rules you may not understand- there is so much to learn! For the dependent of a student or scholar, this is not only stressful, but it can also be a lonely time. ISS is here to help you and your family make Columbia your new home. This page contains information to help dependents and families get settled into their new lives in Columbia.

International Spouse Club

spouse club state house

Make friends from all around the world!

Spouse Club is a monthly gathering for the spouses and dependents of current USC students and scholars. Connect with other spouses, make new friends, and learn about community resources. Open to all dependents and all genders; children are welcome. Please complete the interest form to be added to our mailing list in order to learn about upcoming events. Your feedback is appreciated!


Schools and Childcare

South Carolina requires all children between age 5 and 17 years old attend school. The links below will help you identify your children's school district and any information you will need to enroll your children in school. Additionally, links to childcare resources are provided below.

Find Your School District

Visit the site www.greatschools.org and enter the street address of your home or residence to find out the school district in which you live.

School District Websites

Once you have learned in which school distict you live, visit that district's website to learn more about enrolling your child in school:

Childcare and Daycare Centers in Columbia

There are many daycare centers and childcare centers around Columbia.

The South Carolina Child Care Resource and Referral Network provides many good resources to explain child care in the US and tips for selecting the right option for you and your family.

The website www.ChildCareCenter.us can help you review the child care options available in Columbia. ISS does not formally endorse any of these centers, so please visit a location before making your decision. Childcare centers and daycares often have long waiting lists, so be prepared for a wait.

Health and Safety

The health care system in the United States is very different from what international residents are accustomed to in their own countries. This section will provide some basic information about where to go for health and safety concerns as well as what to expect from a medical appointment.

Local Hospitals

There are numerous hospitals in the Columbia area. In case of emergencies, medical assistance is just minutes away.

In case of an emergency, call 911 for Emergency medical Servcie (EMS).

Health Insurance

The cost of medical care in the United States is very expensive. Even a short visit to a doctor for a minor illness can cost several hundred dollars. A serious medical emergency can cost thousands of dollars. For this reason, we recommend that all dependents have health insurance.

F-2 spouses and dependents of F-1 international students can be added to an F-1 student’s University health plan. This is likely the easiest option, though there may be cheaper options available. There are many insurance plans available for international families.

J-1 sponsored students often have health insurance provided for their whole family as part of their sponsorship support. If this is not the case, we recommend that you purchase insurance for your whole family. All J-2 dependents MUST have insurance.

NOTE: Be aware that in the United States, insurance rarely will cover the entire cost of an appointment or procedure. You must be prepared to pay a small portion of the cost, which is called a co-pay. Additionally, insurance plans have deductables, which is an amount of money you must pay first before insurance will begin covering the costs of medical needs. Co-pays and deductables will vary based on your insurance plan; review your policy to find out what your plan covers.

Finding a Doctor

Each insurance policy has in-network and out-of-network providers. Insurance companies will pay more to cover the costs of services provided by in-network providers. Your Insurance provider will have a list of in-network providers available on their website. You can use this list to find specific doctors that you may need to see (general practitioners, pediatricians, dentists, etc). 

Child Car Seat Safety

In the United States, children under the age of six who are in any vehicle (car, truck, etc.) need to be properly restrained by an approved child safety seat.  The type of car seat you have for your children is based on their age and weight:

  • Children under the age of one year or weighing less than 20 pounds (9.09 kilos) must be in a rear-facing child (infant) seat.
  • Children between the ages of one and five, weighing between 20 and 40 pounds (9.09 to 18.18 kilos), must be in a forward-facing child safety seat.
  • Children between the ages of one and five, weighing 40 to 80 pounds (18.18 to 36.36 kilos), must be in a belt-positioning booster seat.
  • Regardless of age, children weighing over 80 pounds (36.36 kilos) or those who can sit erect against the car seat and bend their legs over the seat's edge are not required to be in a booster seat.
  • In general, children under six years old cannot ride in the front seat. But, this law is not enforced if the vehicle doesn't have a back seat, or if the back seat is occupied by other children under the age of six.

If you have any questions about buying a car seat for your children, come speak to Julia Ferillo in International Student Services. She can help you to select the proper child seat.

For more information, you can visit the Children's Trust of South Carolina's website.

Transportation in Columbia

Columbia does not have the extensive public transportation system that many larger cities have, but that does not mean you cannot get around town or travel outside Columbia. The following section outlines information about transportation options, driver's licenses, and safety information for children.

Transportation Options

There are many options for local transportation around Columbia. The Transportation page will outline some of the options to help you and your family get around town.

South Carolina Drivers Licenses

In order to drive in the United States, you will need to have a valid driver’s license. To get a new license, transfer an existing license, or renew your current license, you must go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (the DMV). You may visit any of the DMV’s offices, which are listed online.

Transferring a Driver’s License: If you have a license from another state in the U.S, you will need to replace it with a South Carolina license within 90 days.

International Driver’s Licenses: If you have a driver’s license from your home country, you will be permitted to drive in the U.S. for only 90 days after your arrival in Columbia. At that point you must get a SC license. If you do not, you may receive a ticket from the police.

Obtaining a Driver’s License

 A list of documents needed to apply for a South Carolina Driver's License can be found here.

You must pass two exams in order to get a license:

  • Written Exam: There is a written test of the traffic laws of South Carolina. You can get a free copy of the South Carolina Driver’s Manual from the South Carolina Highway Department at 955 Park Street. The manual can also be accessed online.
  • Driving Test: You must provide your own car to take this test. Most students will ask a friend to drive them to the South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, located at 1630 Shop Road, for the test. You can take the test more than once if necessary.
Owning a Car

While living in the United States, you may decide to purchase a car. There are advantages to owning a car but many responsibilities, as well. Insurance, taxes, repairs, and gas prices all add to the cost of owning a car. In addition, you must pay to park on campus. All of this must be considered before you decide to buy a car.

Buying a New or Used Car

To buy a new car, you must go a car dealership. Sometimes people buy used cars, which that have already been owned by other people. Buying a used car is often less expensive than buying a new car. If you find a car you like, look over it carefully to make sure there are no problems, and have it looked at by a mechanic. Car dealerships often also sell used cars. Other places to find used cars for sale include the classified section of the local newspapers and bulletin boards. Before you visit a car dealer, find out about the features and costs of various cars. You can look online as well as in magazines such as Consumer Reports or Motor Trend which review the features and costs of different cars.

Automobile Insurance

South Carolina law requires that all drivers immediately purchase automobile insurance when you buy a car. There are many insurance companies in Columbia. Each one will have different rates. Insurance agents can give you an estimate of your insurance costs over the telephone. Be prepared to answer several questions about your car and other personal details since insurance rates depend on many factors such as your age, where you live and your driving record. Ask your insurance agent how each of these types of insurance work and what your responsibilities are if you have an accident.

Automobile Registration and Taxes

If you buy a car in South Carolina, you must register the car with the state of South Carolina. In addition, you must pay property tax on your automobile. This property tax depends on the value and condition of the automobile and must be paid each year you own the car.

  • If you live in Richland County, go to the Richland County Auditor’s office at 2020 Hampton Street (803-748-4955). You must show proof that you have automobile insurance in order to register the car.
  • If you live in Lexington county, go to the Lexington County Administration Building, which is located at South Lake Drive to register your automobile and to pay property taxes on your automobile.

South Carolina License Plate

If you buy a car in South Carolina, you must get a South Carolina license plate to put on the rear of the car. Each year you are required to renew your license plate and registration. Go to any DMV location to register your car.

Child Car Seat Safety

In the United States, children under the age of six who are in any vehicle (car, truck, etc.) need to be properly restrained by an approved child safety seat.  The type of car seat you have for your children is based on their age and weight:

  • Children under the age of one year or weighing less than 20 pounds (9.09 kilos) must be in a rear-facing child (infant) seat.
  • Children between the ages of one and five, weighing between 20 and 40 pounds (9.09 to 18.18 kilos), must be in a forward-facing child safety seat.
  • Children between the ages of one and five, weighing 40 to 80 pounds (18.18 to 36.36 kilos), must be in a belt-positioning booster seat.
  • Regardless of age, children weighing over 80 pounds (36.36 kilos) or those who can sit erect against the car seat and bend their legs over the seat's edge are not required to be in a booster seat.
  • In general, children under six years old cannot ride in the front seat. But, this law is not enforced if the vehicle doesn't have a back seat, or if the back seat is occupied by other children under the age of six.

If you have any questions about buying a car seat for your children, come speak to Julia Ferillo in International Student Services. She can help you to select the proper child seat.

For more information, you can visit the Children's Trust of South Carolina's website.

Shopping in Columbia

Sometimes something as simple as shopping for food can be difficult for people new to the United States. Below is a list of stores where you can find groceries and specialty food items as well as clothing, furniture, and other household items.

Local Grocery and Convenience Stores

Grocery Stores

Pharmacies and Discount Stores:

  • CVS – This is a pharmacy where you may buy medicines, but you can buy many other items that you need in addition to medicine.
  • Walgreens – This is a pharmacy where you may buy medicines, but you can buy many other items that you need in addition to medicine.
  • Family Dollar - This is a discount store, which has many cheap household items.

Superstores

These stores offer a large selection of household items, furniture, electronics, and groceries at one location.

Thrift Stores

These are stores where you may buy second-hand (used) clothing and other household items at a discounted price. There are many thrift stores in the Columbia area.

International Grocery Stores and Markets
Popular Shopping Districts in Downtown Columbia

Five Points is an area with many restaurants, shops, and clubs. It is only about a ten-minute walk from the USC campus. Five Points is a favorite entertainment area for USC students. There are often free outdoor concerts at the fountain. Check “EPI News” on the EPI email for announcements.

The Vista is an area near the river with many nice restaurants. It is only about a ten-minute walk from the USC campus. The Vista is a favorite entertainment area for young professionals in the Columbia area. The State Museum is also located in the Vista area.

Main Street offers many restaurants, bars, and stores. The Columbia Museum of Art is located at the corner of Main and Hampton Streets. Additionally there is the Tapp’s Art Center that offers art shows by different artists. There are also movies shown at the Nickelodeon Theater located at 1607 Main St in the heart of downtown Columbia. Every Saturday morning Main Street hosts the Soda City Market, offering food, handcrafts, and other interesting items for sale. Main Street also offers First Thursdays on Main, a monthly street festival which features music, food, and street exhibits.

Local Malls and Shopping Centers

For an extensive list of stores, boutiques, and galleries around the city, please visit the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Things to Do in Columbia

Columbia is your new home, and you should take advantage of the many fun things to do for you and your family. There are many events and activities for adults and children throughout the year, so have fun and get involved with the community!

Calendars of Events

The following sites have up-to-date calendars about things to do in Columbia and the surrounding region:

Shopping and Entertainment Districts

Five Points is an area with many restaurants, shops, and clubs. It is only about a ten-minute walk from the USC campus. Five Points is a favorite entertainment area for USC students. There are often free outdoor concerts at the fountain.

The Vista is an area near the river with many nice restaurants. It is only about a ten-minute walk from the USC campus. The Vista is a favorite entertainment area for young professionals in the Columbia area. The State Museum is also located in the Vista area.

Main Street offers many restaurants, bars, and stores. The Columbia Museum of Art is located at the corner of Main and Hampton Streets. Additionally there is the Tapp’s Art Center that offers art shows by different artists. There are also movies shown at the Nickelodeon Theater. Every Saturday morning Main Street hosts the Soda City Market, offering food, handcrafts, and other interesting items for sale. Main Street also offers First Thursdays on Main, a monthly street festival which features music, food, and street exhibits.

Museums, Parks, and Zoos
Activities for Children and Families

English Classes / University Courses

There are many resources around Columbia for you to improve your English skills. Additionally, Dependents can enroll in courses at USC or other area colleges and universities.

English Programs for Internationals

English Programs for Internationals (EPI) at the University of South Carolina provides superior ESL instruction supported by experienced faculty. Courses are taught on USC’s campus in the Close Hipp building. Offering 5 terms a year, spouses may take courses in Speaking/Listening, Writing/Grammar/ or Reading/Vocabulary. F-2 and J-2 dependents may enroll in classes.

Local Classes and Community Resources
Enrolling in a University Course as an F2 or J2 Dependent

Dependents and spouses on J-2 or F-2 visas can enroll in courses at the University.These classes may be intensive English courses, recreational classes, or academic coursework.

  • F-2 dependents can only enroll in part-time coursework (less than 12 credit hours for undergraduate, less than 9 credit hours for graduate courses). If an F-2 dependent wishes to engage in full-time coursework, they must apply to USCIS for a Change of Status to F-1.
  • J-2 dependents can engage in full-time study. 

If you have questions about enrolling as a dependent, please contact the International Student Services office.

Campus Resources

Spouses and families can take advantage of many of the events and activities on campus as long as they have a Spouse ID card issued by the University.

Getting a Carolina Card Spouse Identification Card

In order for spouses to access the facilities on campus (events, fitness centers, etc), he or she will need to get a Spouse ID card from the Carolina Card office in the Russell House Student Union. Instructions can be found here.

Fitness and Wellness Centers

The university has two fitness and wellness centers, The Blatt P.E. Center and the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, available for spouses to join (membership fees required to join).

NOTE: The Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center is only available for those 18 years or older. Children under age 16 are restricted from certain activities in the Blatt P.E. Center.

Student Organizations

There are hundreds of organizations on campus, including many that are international or multiculturally-focused. The Garnet Gate Organizations page will list these international campus groups. Click the link and use the left hand menu to select the filter  for "International and Multicultural". You may not be able to formally join the club as a non-student, but these groups are a good way to connect with other students and families from your country or region, and many of these organizations welcome spouses and families. 

Campus Events and Activities

The University has an extensive calendar of events available online.

Additionally, Carolina Productions offers numerous events, films, and activities throughout the Fall and Spring semesters.