U.S. Laws and Legal Issues

In addition to immigration law, any individual in the U.S. must follow U.S. Federal, State, and Local laws that govern daily life. 

Violating a U.S. law can have consequences that can negatively impact an international student’s stay in the U.S., including a student’s visa status. 

Knowing and understanding the laws that you may encounter in the U.S. is very important. While orientation sessions may provide some basic information, we are highlighting some common laws and policies that impact daily life. You can reach out to your ISO Advisor if any questions arise and to guide you to available resources. 

Laws Regarding Alcohol

As many probably already know, the United States does not allow the consumption or purchase of alcohol by anyone under age 21. This is strict and will be taken very seriously. Please make sure you read and understand the policy on alcohol in the MIT Mind and Hand Book.

Please also note that even if you are age 21 or older, you cannot drink alcohol outside in public. This includes walking around with an open container, as well as consuming alcohol in a park or beach. This may differ greatly from your home country, so please be aware.

Drug Use

  • MIT drug policy (from MIT Mind and Hand Book)
  • Possession/use of marijuana, while legal in certain cases in Massachusetts, is not allowed in other states, is a violation of MIT policy, and is against Federal law (which can negatively affect visa status).

Taxes / Filing an Annual Income Tax Return

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct

Consent is very important in the United States and in this vein, we invite you to visit the Violence Prevention & Response (VPR) website for more info.

Violence Prevention & Response (VPR) helps members of the MIT community prevent and respond to:

  • Rape and sexual assault
  • Sexual harassment
  • Dating and domestic violence
  • Stalking
  • Unhealthy relationships

Each student, faculty, and staff member is required to take a Sexual Harassment training before beginning their studies or work at MIT, and each student is expected to understand the requirements in the MIT Mind and Handbook.

Additional Resources

Family / Domestic Laws

U.S. Domestic and Family laws may differ from the ones in your country. For example, you should not leave a child home alone, even for a short while, if they are under age 10. There are strict rules, especially in Massachusetts, against child neglect and abuse, including spanking a child with more than reasonable force. If you have questions or concerns about this, please contact VPR (Violence Prevention & Response): 24/7 Hotline: (617) 253-2300.

In addition, please be aware that if there is a domestic dispute between spouses or partners and the police is called, they will be obligated to make an arrest. They will not be able to settle or help with the dispute; rather, they will let the courts decide. However, if a serious violation has occurred and someone is in danger, the police should be called. For more resources on partner violence, contact VPR (Violence Prevention & Response): 24/7 Hotline: (617) 253-2300

All services are free and confidential.

Driving in the U.S.

The following website, Finding the Universe, will help explain some of the basic traffic laws in the United States. Please note that some laws may differ by state, so it is always important to check by state, such as at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).

If you plan to own or rent a car, please make sure you pay for the insurance, since you may liable for thousands of dollars if there is an accident, whether it is your fault or not.

Bike Laws

Check this website (https://www.donkey.bike/usa-cycling-rules/) for information about bike laws in the United States, which also may differ by state. Please check here for info on Massachusetts bike laws.