There are many laws in the United States that you should know when you arrive (or before!) so that you know how to stay out of trouble, especially because any violation of the law could put your visa in jeopardy and you could end up having to go home. It’s better to know now than to figure it out later on when you’re already in trouble.

Helpful Hint:

The Dashew Center definitely recommends that you utilize the Student Legal Services department on campus to know your rights, in case you do get into legal trouble or if you just want advice on what to do when you want to buy or sell a car, create a roommate agreement, have an auto accident, etc.

Alcohol & Marijuana

T he alcohol laws in the US can actually be very strict so make sure you read the following information. While you may be able to drink under the age of 21 in your country, drinking under the age of 21 (underage drinking) is taken very seriously here. You will always be asked for your Identification (with valid birthdate on it) when you go to a bar or purchase alcohol, so always expect that. Helpful Hint:

If you don’t want to carry around your passport all the time, and don’t want to take the chance that the bar/store/restaurant you’re going to doesn’t accept international identification as valid ID, we suggest you get a California Driver’s License or a California ID Card. See the California ID webpage for more details on how to get one of these!

Drinking under age 21:

• You can be charged with DUI with only .01 blood alcohol content (that’s any trace of alcohol)

• You can lose your driver’s license for one year (even if you are not even close to a car!)

Drinking in public/outside:

• This is not allowed in the US, you are not allowed to drink in any outside space (parks, sidewalks, campus, etc) unless the outside space is a part of a restaurant (terrace, patio, etc).

• You might be convicted of a misdemeanor & could have a criminal record for the rest of your life

• A criminal record could prevent you from being a doctor, a lawyer, a credentialed teacher, and many more professions

• The applications for many graduate programs ask if you ever have been convicted of a crime

Drinking in public/outside:

• Lose your driver’s license for at least 90 days • Pay a fine and fees of more than $1,500

• Pay huge increases in insurance premiums

• Be required to attend a costly and time consuming alcohol abuse program

• Have a criminal record for DUI

Marijuana Marijuana

• While marijuana is legal for recreational usage in California for those 21 years of age and older, the consumption and possession of marijuana are both still federally illegal. Since your visa status is dependent on federal laws, if you are caught with marijuana your visa would be in jeopardy. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that as long as you have the medical marijuana prescription card in California that it is okay for you to smoke/possess/sell/grow marijuana, you need to follow the federal laws as a person who is in the U.S. on a visa.

Illegal Downloading / File Sharing

It's easy to get access to our favorite entertainment from the Internet; but some ways of doing this aren't legal, putting you at risk for being sued by the entertainment industry and being sanctioned for a violation of the Student Conduct Code. File sharing also carries risks to your computer through viruses and malware often contained within the material you download.
There are many ways to find legal sources of digital entertainment, including resources we've compiled for this site, Bird Trax from Illinois State University, and the list maintained by EDUCAUSE. With so many legal sources, there's no reason not to "get legal"! There are also thousands of easily accessible campus videos available through UCLA on iTunesU and UCLA on YouTube for you to enjoy. We've included two short video primers (below) on illegal file sharing created by a UCLA student. They're informative and entertaining. Check 'em out!

Helpful Hint:

It is LEGAL to:

  • Make a personal backup copy of content that you have purchased
  • It is usually legal to make copies of licensed-waived music videos, games, and software that are posted free on the Internet.

It is NOT LEGAL to:

  • Copy purchased content from a friend’s computer, such as a record album.
  • Download copyrighted material (files sold online or in stores) from a Peer-to-Peer network without paying for it on a file-by-by basis; there are a number of bogus schemes where consumers pay for a P2P service that is promoted as legal, but there are no legal P2P networks that allow you to consume all you want by paying one fee.
  • Share tracks with others even if it is purchased legally
  • Remove the digital rights management (DRM) protections from a track so you can copy it to your iPod or other portable player
  • Download otherwise purchasable music videos, games for free from a website in a foreign country.
  • Use BitTorrent, a P2P file sharing communications protocol, to copy and share copyrighted material without copyright holder permission; use of BitTorrent itself IS legal, however, for other purposes.
  • Use email or Instant Messaging to distribute copyrighted material to friends.

Renter's Rights

There are many laws in place that protect a person who rents an apartment from a landlord. Make sure you know your rights so that you don’t get taken advantage of.

Condition of the Apartment

You should take certain steps to document the amount of the security deposit and the condition of your apartment. When you give your landlord the deposit, get writing indicating the amount you paid and that it is a deposit. If you pay in cash, it is advisable to get a receipt from the landlord.

Helpful Hint:

  • Be sure to give the landlord a written list of any problems with the apartment when you move in and make sure you keep a copy of this list.
  • Both when you move in and at the time you vacate the apartment, you should take photographs that will show the condition of the apartment.

Security Deposit

California law allows landlords to collect a “security” from tenants. This “security” includes your security deposit, cleaning fee, last month’s rent, and any fees the landlord charges to process a new tenant. The security may not be more than two months’ rent if the apartment is unfurnished or three months’ rent if the apartment is furnished.

Your landlord must return your security deposit to you within twenty-one days after you have vacated your apartment. If the landlord makes any deductions from the total amount of your security deposit, the landlord also must give you an itemized written statement of these deductions. The landlord may make deductions for unpaid rent, for damage caused by the tenant that is in excess of ordinary wear and tear, and for cleaning the apartment, if necessary to return it to the same level of cleanliness as at the outset of the tenancy. You also are entitled to documentation supporting the deductions, such as repair or cleaning invoices.

Inspection upon move-out

A new California law gives you the right to demand an initial inspection of the apartment, so you will have the opportunity to try to avoid deductions from the deposit by fixing any problems identified in the inspection. The inspection may not occur more than two weeks before the termination of the tenancy, and you and the landlord should try to find a mutually agreeable time. The landlord must give you at least 48 hours written notice of the time of the inspection; any agreement to conduct an inspection on less than 48 hours notice must be in writing and signed by you and the landlord.

After the inspection, the landlord must give you a written list of any problems for which he plans to make a deduction from your deposit. You have the right to try to fix these problems until your tenancy terminates. The landlord may make deductions for any problems that remain after you move out, either because you did not fix them, they occurred after the inspection, or they were obscured by your possessions during the inspection.

Terminating your lease

Unless the landlord gives you written permission to terminate your lease early, you run the risk of owing the landlord a substantial amount of money if you break the lease. A lease or rental agreement for a period of time creates the obligation for you to pay rent for the entire period, even if you are no longer living in the apartment.

This obligation may be terminated if:

  1. You and the landlord both sign a written agreement modifying the term of the lease;
  2. The landlord rents your apartment to a new tenant
  3. If the condition of the apartment is so terrible that it is legally uninhabitable and you have satisfied several statutory requirements.

If you think you are eligible to pursue #3, you should consult with an attorney to be certain you take all the requisite legal steps.

More likely, #2 is your best option, as landlords typically do not willingly release tenants from their lease obligations. Your landlord must try to rent your apartment if you break the lease, although he only needs to make reasonable efforts to do so; posting a sign in front of the apartment building would be reasonable, not a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times. You remain liable for the rent until the new tenant moves in and starts paying rent. In addition, you are responsible for the costs the landlord incurs in trying to re-rent your apartment.

Renter's Insurance

Renters Insurance, offered by Sallie Mae Insurance Services (recommended by UCLA), helps provide protection for students and families against losses for both their personal property and unintended injury caused to others or damage to other people’s property.

Renters Insurance is ideal for:

  • Undergraduate students living off campus or in a dorm
  • Graduate students living off campus
  • Features include:

They offer:

  • Affordable Premiums
  • Low deductibles
  • Policies can be shared by roommates
  • Replacement cost coverage: lost or stolen items will be covered for the cost to replace them
  • Worldwide coverage: you're covered if you are traveling abroad

Property Covered:

  • Laptops & Desktop Computers
  • iPods & MP3 Players
  • Textbooks & School Supplies
  • Musical Instruments
  • Sports Equipment
  • Cell Phones, Digital Cameras & Electronics

For Pricing and Coverage details, please call (866) 572-1624 or go to this website:

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