The amount of money to bring depends your housing situation. If you did not find a spot in one of the dormitories, then you should bring an extra $1,500 to $3,000. This is because upon signing a renting contract, you will be asked to pay the first month and last months rent, and a deposit equivalent in amount to a months rent. In addition to this, you will need to spend a couple hundred dollars in buying books, furniture etc. If you are buying a computer, expect to pay at least about $1000 for a new one. The following is a comparison of different methods to bring funds. (Reference: SISS welcome email)
Traveler's checks Advantages Immediately available as cash or to open bank accounts Can be replaced if stolen Disadvantages Large checks (over $50) can be difficult to use in shops Electronic Banking: ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) or check cards Advantages Immediately available Good exchange rate Disadvantages May have daily limit ($200-$300) May have a fee for use Credit cards from non-U.S. banks Advantages Immediately available Good exchange rate Disadvantages Not all international cards are accepted Bank checks Advantages Useful for large sums of money Disadvantages Not available for 3 days to 3 weeks after deposit Cannot be replaced if lost Wire transfers to an existing bank account Advantages Immediately available Safest Disadvantages Must open account at U.S. bank first Fees will be charged
Keeping in mind of the weight/utility ratio, I recommend you bring as much items from home to save money. For example, comparing to where I’m from, most factory made products are cheaper here except textbooks, utensils, blankets and clothes, so I brought a couple of my favorite. Because international house didn’t provide blankets, I really appreciated my favorite blanket from home. Berkeley is in sunny Califonia, but the weather is not like what it seems like in a Bay Watch episode. That’s more like Los angeles. No, the beaches here are very different from Bay watch. Wake up!
A summer night can be as cold as a winter day, and if you come here with T-shirts and shorts, you could experience what Mark Twain did. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Even during the winter, the temperature in Berkeley seldom drops below freezing point, so you don’t need to dress up for snow, but warm clothing and blankets are good to have. You may not find the good bread or good noodle soup you love back home, but there are a lot of places you can find international/ethnic food near berkeley, so perhaps it’s better not to bring food with you. Also, when you are bringing electronic goods, make sure they are compliant with the 100-110V 60hz electricity standard here. If not, keep in mind that the converteres are available here but are heavy, bulky and expensive. There are two more thing I think is very useful. First, an international drivers license, or at least the ability to drive a car. You might have to rent a car for a week when you look for a room to live. If not at least try to learn how to rid a bicycle. This will give you more choice for housing.
Second, a credit card such as Master or Visa. If you get sick, and you need to visit a non-campus hospital, they might NOT treat you unless you show some proof that you can pay for it. Welcome to USA.
Hospitals do accept credit cards, like most commercial establishments here. I had a friend who paid $1,500 due to a minor bicycle injury before his UC berkeley insurance was in effect. The $1500 breaks down to the 5 minute ambulance ride ($500 ), 5 minute doctor consultation ($600) and the rest for using the emergency room for an hour or so. So you get the idea of a suitable credit card limit. Make sure you are covered for health insurance for all of the time you are here.