Living in Hyde Park

Useful Smartphone Apps
Fun Things To Do in Chicago
Embracing Winter Weather
Helpful Links

Useful Smartphone Apps

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 General Chicago Apartment Finding Resources:


  • EzLife Furniture: an online furniture with fast delivery and great student pricing. 

Local Resource Info:

Housing Troubleshooting

To learn about utilities (electric and gas), review this information about utilities.

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Undergraduates in the housing system do not need to pay extra for utilities.

With contract apartments, utilities such as gas, electricity, water, and trash service are set-up through the housing management; the fee is either included in the rent or paid directly to the landlord.

However, most off-campus apartments require you set up your own utilities.  Your landlord will often tell which company to go to for utilities specific to electricity and natural gas (for cook stoves, some furnaces, etc.). The most frequently used companies in Chicago are: 

With a Social Security Number (SSN):
You can request to start your service either by phone or online. The request forms can be found on the following pages:


People Gas:

Without a Social Security Number (SSN):

ComEd: As online forms require you to enter a SSN, you will need to call ComEd to request service. You will then need to visit a Verification Identification (VERID) Center to present two valid forms of identification (view acceptable forms of identification). When searching for a VerID location, first enter your zipcode, which will open a new tab/screen listing only "convenience payment locations." From here, you will need to click on "Advanced Search" in the lower-left corner of the list, and again enter your zipcode and under "Type" click the box labeled "Verid" to see locations nearby. Please note that some VerID locations can be difficult to get to--if you have questions about locations, please contact OIA.

Applicants are required to provide two forms of acceptable documentation for positive identification, including one government issued photo ID (foreign government issued ID can be accepted). International students most often present their passport and one of the following:

  • Immigration documents (I-20 or DS-2019, Visa Stamp, or I-94 record)
  • Student ID
  • Bank account information (e.g. a bank statement with your name and address)

Visit the ComEd website or call them directly at 1-800-334-7661 for more information on setting up electricity and finding a VerID center. When you call them directly, they will ask for your area zipcode to find a VerID location nearest to you. 

People’s Gas: You will also need to call the Peoples Gas customer service number to start your gas service if you do not have a SSN. They will ask you to send copies of your passport (and possibly your student ID card) for identification purposes.

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Opening a local bank account is a safe and convenient way to keep track of your money.  Many banks have special accounts for students, with perks such as free checking. There are two types of basic accounts available: Checking Accounts and Savings Accounts. Most students open a checking account; in fact, it is almost a necessity while on campus.


A checking account allows you to deposit your money in the bank and then write paper checks for amounts as needed.  The checks are returned to the bank and subtracted (debited) from the account.

Some checking accounts have a required minimum balance or minimum opening deposit (anywhere from $25 to $1,000). If the minimum balance is maintained on a daily basis, checking is usually free, meaning there is no monthly service charge, no fee for each check written, and interest accrues if it is an interest bearing account. However, if the balance falls below the minimum at any time during the month, you may be charged an overdraft fee, which means you spent more than what was available in your account

Checking accounts that do not have a minimum balance usually do not bear interest. Most banks also have extensive online services, such as online bill paying, automatic debit for reoccurring fees, or online transfer services.

Most checking accounts include a debit card (see below)


 A savings (or money market account) allows you to earn interest on the balance of your account.  These work best for sums of money that you do not want to spend immediately as they generally allow limited withdrawals (usually as 2-3 per month).   


A debit card allows you to withdraw cash from your checking or savings account at any Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). Most checking accounts come with a debit card; you will select a PIN (personal identification number) to use in conjunction with the card.   Some banks will not issue you a debit card if you do not have a social security number.

Some banks charge a monthly fee for ATM use, others charge each time you use the card, and some may not charge at all. A debit card (which also serves as an ATM card) allows you to charge expenses (much like a credit card) to your bank account rather than having to pay with cash or check. If you plan on using your card when travelling overseas, you should contact your bank beforehand to make sure there are no restrictions on using it abroad; for security reasons, many banks will block use of a card in other countries unless you give them permission to lift such restrictions.

Check with your bank for account-specific information.


In order to open an account, simply go to the bank, or apply online. You will most likely need two forms of identification, such as your passport and birth certificate. Also, if you are a student, you should bring proof, such as your student I.D. or your admissions letter. You will also need to fill out several forms and have either cash or a check (or an international draft or money order) to deposit in the account.

Usually the bank provides a pack of starter checks and a debit card, which you can use immediately while waiting for customized checks to arrive. Some banks will come to campus during Orientation Week to help students open accounts. Some banks will not allow a new customer to open an account without a Social Security Number, but for many it is not necessary. 

There is only one bank located on campus, Citibank, at 5812 South Ellis Avenue, next to the bookstore.  Maroon Financial Credit Union, across from Ratner, also offers banking services.

General information:

You can open a U.S. bank account with cash (in U.S. dollars), a check, or an international draft/money order. For your safety, we recommend that you use non-cash options, such as a money order or travelers checks.  Travelers checks can be used like cash, but are coded so that if your checks are lost or stolen you will be able to cancel them and get a refund.

If you enter the United States with more than $100,000 or equivalent in foreign currency, you will have to report to customs upon arrival. Usually the process should not be difficult and the custom officers will simply confirm your reasons for bringing that amount of money.

If you do not want to carry large amounts of money with you, another option is to bring enough money to open a bank account and then transfer money from your home bank to the new bank account.

If you are using an international bank such as Citibank, you may be able to transfer funds between your home country and U.S. bank accounts. However, if the bank you use does not offer this service or does not have a branch in Chicago and you open a U.S. account under a different bank, you will need to first transfer adequate funds to a family member or friend’s account prior to departure. After arriving in the U.S. and creating a bank account, the bank will give you information necessary for transferring funds, such as your bank account number and Swift code. You can then have your family member/friend wire the money to you with this information.

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Cellular/Mobile Phones:

Most students and scholars at the University of Chicago carry cell phones; however, it is not an absolute necessity.  There are many different plans and carriers that you can choose from, but it is important to note that for long-term contracts, some carriers may not allow you to sign up for a plan unless you have a Social Security Number (SSN) or pay a deposit. See below for information about cellular phone carriers in Hyde Park. 

Pre-paid/Pay-as-you-go Phones:

If you are only in the U.S. for a short period or do not anticipate using your phone very often, you may want to opt for a pre-paid or pay-as-you-go phone. You do not need an SSN to sign-up for pre-paid phones. You can select a monthly or daily rate package depending on the amount of calls/text messages/web data that you wish to use. Pay-as-you-go phones are a type of pre-paid phone service where you will be charged per minute for calls that you make or receive.

While pre-paid and pay-as-you-go phones may be cheaper, bear in mind that these fees must be paid in advance and are nonrefundable. There are also expiration periods that are associated with each plan. For example, for some plans, the unlimited texts and calls that you buy will expire after 30 days and you will have to refill your balance for the next month. Furthermore, if you do not refill your account after expiration your account will be closed in 60 days and you will no longer be able to use the same number.

If you are planning to travel around the country, you may also want to check on coverage maps for each type of plan. Prepaid phones can sometimes have less coverage than contract phones, especially in the southwest.

See below for information on pre-paid/pay-as-you-go phones by various carriers.

Generic Phones:

If you would like to compare services and plans, one option is to buy your phone at a department store such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc. These stores may have a wider variety of phones to choose from. They usually also assist you with signing up to a specific carrier plan.

Please be aware that some services and plans are only available for specific phone types. If there is a phone plan that you wish to use, you should check first whether the phone you buy is compatible with the plan.

Mail-in Rebate: 

You may notice that some phones have two prices, one higher price and one lower price, which is with a “mail-in rebate”. This means that although you will have to pay the higher price at the time of purchase, once you sign a form and mail it back to the manufacturer they will reimburse part of the cost.

International Calls:

All phone plans, whether contract or prepaid, have international call features that you can add to your package to make calls internationally. However, these rates can be high. One option is to buy calling cards such as those provided by ZapTel, which provides international calls at a lower rate. Internet calling services such as Skype, Google Chat/voice, FaceTime, etc. are also available if you opt to speak online instead of on your mobile phone.

Home Phone Service:

If you want phone service in your residence (referred to as a landline), you will need to contact either AT&T or Comcast to set up your service.  You will most likely need to provide your own telephone, but those can be found in most pharmacies and general stores.  You must coordinate installation with your provider if your residence does not already have a "phone-jack" (the phone socket).  It is best to check with your apartment management before contacting any service provider to see if they have recommendations.


There are two major internet providers in the Chicagoland area, Comcast and AT&T.  A third called RCN is available in some areas as well. All offer wireless internet. They also offer combination packages (bundles) of internet, phone, and cable. It is best to first check with your apartment management to see if the building supports a specific provider or if you are able to choose your own. Your management will probably also be able to provide you with contact information for these utilities as well as others. 

Campus Phones:

There are two types of campus phones. The first are the white "security phones". These are not for ordinary phone calls. They are only to be used if you need campus police to help you at that particular location. For example, if you are robbed, then you should immediately locate one of these telephones. They are directly linked to the campus police who will come very quickly to your assistance.

The second type of campus phones are the "IBX" phones. You can use these only to make a call to someone else on campus who has an IBX phone; for example, a faculty member. The numbers you can call using these phones usually have 5 digits, whereas ordinary phones, such as your private phone at home require 7 digit numbers or more.

Public Phones:

There are not many public pay phones left in Chicago, but you can find them in some places. Most take change only; some will accept credit cards.


If you need help looking up a phone numbers you can speak with a phone "operator" by simply dialing "0". This is a free call. There are also international operators who deal with questions about international numbers. To access an international operator, call the operator at "0" and ask to be connected to the international operator.

Police, Ambulance or Fire:

Dial 911 in the case of any emergency, on any public or private phone.  You may also dial 311 to reach the police or city services for non-emergencies. Both calls are free.

Mobile Phone Stores in Hyde Park:

AT&T Wireless
1457 E. 53rd Street

1406 E. 53rd Street

1451 E. 53rd Street
Tel: 773-752-6015; email:

U.S. Cellular
5426 S. Lake Park

Pre-paid/Pay-as-you-go Phone Information
Enter 60637 as the zip code if necessary to see information.

AT&T GoPhone

Boost Mobile

Virigin Mobile

T-Mobile Prepaid Plans

U.S. Cellular Prepaid Plans

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Fun Things To Do in Chicago

Chicago is a big city with many interesting and diverse things to do for fun. There is something for all ages, incomes, and interests! Here are some resources to start exploring:

TimeOut Chicago: the online version of the popular entertainment and activities magazine. It has a calendar of events, and searchable database of reviews. 

MetroMix: an online guide to restaurants and activities in the city.

The Chicago Tribune: on Fridays the "Trib" publishes a guide to all the events going on in Chicago for the next week. This includes everything from art galleries to zoos, movies, music, sports, neighborhood festivals, and theater.

The Chicago Reader: this is a free newspaper which is distributed all over the city, including campus. The Reader comes out on Thursday afternoons and is usually found at bookstores and restaurants. It contains a very comprehensive listing of clubs, theaters, music, and films.

New City: another free newspaper, usually found in the same locations as The Reader, and contains much of the same listings.

The Chicago Cultural Center: the city's official visitor information center. They also have a schedule of free concerts, lectures, and exhibits which are open to the public.

Museums: Chicago's museums are among the best in the world! While this is not a complete list of every museum in Chicago, here are some of the biggest. Many of them have "free days" when no general admission is charged (generally in the winter), and they are all easily accessible by public transportation. City of Chicago residents who have a public library card (free with proof of address) can also check out museum passes, good for free general admission for two adults and two children.

The Art Institute of Chicago: excellent collection of French impressionists, among many others. The Art Institute is free with UCID.

The Field Museum of Natural History: contains exhibits on prehistory, Ancient Egypt, flora, fauna, American Indians, and many others. A Chicago resident discount is offered with proof of residency (driver's license, bills, etc). 

Museum of Science and Industry: located right here in Hyde Park. Great interactive museum contains a coal mine, a jet plane, and a U-boat submarine. Free with UCID.

Chicago Historical Society: a look at the history of Chicago and Illinois.

The Shedd Aquarium: fish, whales and other aquatic things. Chicago residents receive a small discount on admission every day.

The Adler Planetarium: observatory, sky show, exhibits on astronomy and space exploration. Also offers a discount for Chicago residents.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation: Chicago is world-famous for its impressive display of innovative architectural styles. The Foundation offers many different kinds of tours (walking, boating, biking, for children, etc.). This is also a great way to learn about Chicago's neighborhoods and history.

Lincoln Park Zoo: located in Lincoln Park, a trip to the zoo is a great family outing. Kids love the "Farm in the Zoo", a petting zoo with small domesticated farm animals. You can also walk around the winding paths, sit by the lagoons, and commune with nature. Free Admission. Situated next to the zoo is the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which contains many varieties of plants and flowers in four greenhouses. For more information call 312-742-7736.

Dusable Museum of African American History: located right in Hyde Park, across from the University of Chicago hospital.

National Museum of Mexican Art: located in the Pilsen neighborhood, the largest Latino cultural institution in the nation and the only Latino museum accredited by the American Association of Museums. Free Admission.

Theater: Chicago is home to many fine theaters and acting ensembles including the famous Second City comedy-improvisational troupe, Goodman, and Steppenwolf companies. Professional theater on campus is at the Court Theater, and student productions can be seen at University Theater, Also, check HotTix which has half-priced same-day tickets for theater productions in Chicago.

Movies/Films: Doc Films is an on-campus program that runs events throughout the year. For other locations and times, use Google to search. There are numerous film festivals throughout the year. The Chicago International Film Festival is held every October at two or three movie theaters on the North Side.

Music: Whatever your taste in music, you can be sure that someone is playing it somewhere in Chicago. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago are world-famous, but tickets can be expensive and hard to get although both institutions offer specials for students. The aforementioned entertainment links can help direct you to other musical events going on for any kind of music that interests you. 

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Embracing Winter Weather

If you've moved to Chicago from a warmer location, winter weather can be a shock. OIA has prepared two resources for international students and scholars to help understand how cold the temperatures get, how much snow is typical, some suggested clothing options and shopping locations based on current student feedback and more. At some point, winter is coming! For more:

Helpful Links

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