Studying abroad is one of the best adventures a student will ever have. The opportunity to immerse yourself in all that a new culture has to offer provides an abundance of new skills and experiences. However, there are many details to arrange, as well. In this article, we will cover the essential tasks you need to accomplish to prepare yourself for studying abroad.
Passports and Visas and Ids…. Oh My!
Sure, you know you need a passport to travel in and out of the country, but it’s not as simple as going to a local passport store and walking out with your official documentation. Getting a passport takes time—up to two months in some cases. So, you want to be sure you prepare well in advance. You will need to provide documents like your original birth certificate and a valid photo ID, so make sure you have these in your possession ahead of time.
Speaking of identification, you should also consider that as of October 2020, all US citizens will need a REAL photo ID just for air travel within the US, so if you do not have this enhanced documentation yet, now is the time to get it.
In addition to your ID and passport, you will probably need a visa. If you are taking advantage of a study program through your school, they will likely advise you on the type of visa you need to apply for, and how to fill out the forms you will need. Keep in mind that visas are also time-consuming and can take weeks to arrive, so make sure you have it far in advance of your date of departure.
Make an Appointment With Your Doctor
It would be best if you planned on having a full physical before your travels to make sure you are in tip-top shape. While at your doctor’s office, be sure to get a copy of your medical records to bring with you on your journey. This is a precaution in case you have an emergency while you are away. You also will want to make sure you are up to date on your shots and that you know about any immunizations required by your host country.
If you have a current condition that requires you to take prescription medication, try to get enough medicine to last for your whole visit in case it is difficult to obtain the pills abroad. And this last one is super important—make sure your prescriptions stay in their labeled bottles. While you may be tempted to put them into smaller containers to save space, keeping them in their original bottles will prove that you have come by them legally. The last thing you want is to be mistakenly accused of smuggling illegal drugs.
Check Your Insurance Needs
Make sure your current health insurance covers you outside of the country in case of an emergency or accident. If they do not, you can check sites like the Council on International Educational Exchange. They offer specific insurance programs tailored to traveling students. These plans can cover you against unexpected events such as:
Make Sure You Will Have Access to Your Money
Before you head off to parts unknown, it’s crucial that you know you will be able to access your money. The easiest way to do this by setting up an online account. This way, you can use your bank debit card to get local currency at any ATM. If you need cash right away, use the ATM at the airport after your flight.
You will also want to be certain to notify the bank of your travel plans. Otherwise, they may see transactions in a foreign country and lock you out of your account as protection against fraud.
Know What to Expect From Your Cell Phone
You’re going to want to stay in touch with the folks back home, and your primary way of accomplishing this will be through your cell phone. Some students mistakenly purchase an international plan, which is a way overpriced option. Instead, you should opt for a pay-as-you-go plan and get a local SIM card. If your phone is not unlocked, call your carrier and have them unlock it so it can be used internationally. (Phones purchased after 2015 are required to be sold unlocked).
You can also opt to go to a phone store in your host country and purchase a separate phone to use for your trip.
To avoid excessive charges, you will want to connect to your family and friends in the states with apps like Skype or WhatsApp. Otherwise, your bill will get super-expensive. Also, be aware that in many places, cell service is not as reliable as you might be used to, so have patience and anticipate instances of slower service.
Don’t Break the Law
If you are a bit of a risk-taker, you are going to want to consider leaving your evil twin stateside. Understand that if you are caught breaking the law in a foreign country, you could find yourself in a foreign jail. Your parents, country, friends, and school may not be able to spring you as easily as you might think. Familiarize yourself with the local laws, so you don’t end up behind bars instead of enjoying your trip.
Know What to Do in an Emergency
If you have an emergency during your trip abroad, inform your programming staff right away, but in the case of political upheaval or civil unrest, your best bet is to head straight to the US embassy. Make sure you know where it is and how to get there and keep the information on you at all times. If you lose your passport or other important documentation, you will also want to go to the embassy immediately as the process of getting a replacement passport can be lengthy.
Invest in Some Good Walking Shoes
You will probably be surprised at the amount of walking you do in your host country. While most Americans use their cars to pop down to the corner store to purchase bread and milk, this is not the case in the majority of other countries. Prepare to spend a lot of time on foot getting from place to place. Your cute shoes can find a place in your backpack, but make sure you invest in a supportive and sturdy pair of walking shoes to keep your tootsies comfortable for the duration.
The adventure of a lifetime awaits you! As long as you are prepared in advance and know what to expect, studying abroad will provide you with many memorable stories, and will enrich your life in ways you never thought possible.
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