Preparing for a semester abroad can take a lot of time and planning. The best thing you can do is ensure that you give yourself plenty of time before you leave to get everything in order. The sooner you start planning, the cheaper and less stressful the process ends up being.
Here are a few of the documents you need to prepare before or directly following your acceptance into your study abroad program:
- Passport: Apply for a passport ASAP. Passport processing can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks and is absolutely crucial to traveling abroad. If you already have a valid passport, ensure that it does not expire within the 6 months after your planned departure from your study abroad location.
- Visa: Most countries require study abroad students to obtain a visa before or during your time abroad. Research your host country’s visa requirements and familiarize yourself with the process. NAFSA provides a great resource for information on student visas for each country. Make sure you allow yourself ample time to obtain your student visa.
- Visit your doctor: Not only do some countries require specific immunizations before you are allowed to enter, it is a good idea to get a physical before you leave as well.
- Health insurance: Check with your study abroad program and/or your health insurance provider to see if they include international health coverage. If it does not, research alternative international insurance options. While none of us want to get sick or hurt, it is always safe to have coverage just in case! Also consider looking into travel insurance to cover your belongings in case of loss or theft.
- Flights: Skyscanner is one of my favorite cheap-flight-finders. It compares flights between all different airlines and travel agencies.
Let’s Talk Money
With all this talk of flights, visas and passports, it’s almost impossible not to think of the financial commitment that comes with studying abroad. Money is one of the greatest contributing factors to students deciding not to study abroad. But it shouldn’t be. With a little bit of preplanning, effort and time, anything is possible. Here are some things to consider when it comes to study abroad financials:
- Scholarships: Like I mentioned before, financing should not be the reason you are unable to study abroad. StudyAbroad.com posts dozens upon dozens of scholarship opportunities to help fund student’s semesters abroad. Apply for any and all that you can. It may be time consuming, but it will be worth it in the end.
- Create a budget: Creating a pre-semester abroad budget will set the pace for what you can and cannot do over the semester. Assess the amount of money you will have going into the semester, set aside a certain amount for any expenses you already know you will have to pay for, allocate money for travel, then divide up the rest based on how long you are there (also set aside a bit in case of an emergency). Be sure to update this budget as you go along so you can adjust accordingly.
- Debit/credit cards: Debit or credit cards are one of the safest options when traveling abroad. You may want to look into getting a travel credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees (some even reward you travel points which can be used on hotel accommodations, airfare and more). Also be sure to let your bank and credit card company know when and where you will be traveling before you leave, so your card does not get flagged for fraud.
- Currency/Exchange rates: Exchange rates can fluctuate on a daily basis. It is important to know what the local currency is worth in U.S. dollars, so you know how much you are spending.
While this might seem obvious, safety should always be your number one priority while traveling abroad. You are in a different country with a culture and laws much different than you are familiar with. Here are just a few things to keep in mind while abroad:
- Know the local emergency contact numbers
- Register with the nearest U.S. Embassy’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP): By registering for STEP, this allows the U.S. Embassy to inform you about safety conditions in your destination country, contact you in case of an emergency and also helps family and friends get in touch with you if there is an emergency.
- Pay attention to travel warnings and public announcements: Whether you decide to register for STEP or not, be sure to stay up to date on local news regarding travel warnings or any other public issues/threats.
- Know the local laws and use your common sense: You’re in a different country and you should be respectful of that. Not only are you representing yourself, your school and your study abroad program while abroad, you are also an ambassador of the United States of America. Don’t let us down.
The planning and preparation process can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but start early, stay on top of everything, always remain aware of the “next steps,” and everything will go smoothly. Print off confirmation pages for everything and keep a file of all relevant documents/notices. Give yourself plenty of time. Stay organized. But most importantly, get excited — because you’re going abroad!
Guest Blogger - Emily LaPlume. Emily is a senior at Champlain College pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and minoring in Event Management. Emily has been a seasonal intern at GSCU for over three years and has also interned at The Capitol Center for the Arts, Brandthropology and Fuse Marketing. Emily spent a semester studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland and another in Wellington, New Zealand.