Leaving the country to study or travel abroad is a daunting idea in itself—goodbyes are tough, and adjusting to a new culture is seemingly even tougher. But before any collegiette can jet off for a few days, weeks, or months of irreplaceable experiences, there are a few logistics (those tiny little things no one ever wants to concern themselves with) that need sorting out that will make your time away that much more enjoyable. We talked to Vy Truong, online content and PR marketing specialist for Contiki—the leading travel company for 18- to 35-year-olds—and mapped out a list of travel logistics that will help you feel completely prepared and stress-free when you step onto the plane.
Despite the horrifically bad pictures they tend to contain (I’ve told basically every person I’ve encountered working at airport security that my picture was taken on an off day; trust me, they understand), you just can’t leave the country without a passport. If you already have one, make sure that it is valid for the entirety of your trip. While it may sound like a Lizzie McGuire Movie kind of romanticism, being stuck in a foreign country with an expired passport is anything but ideal. Between language barriers and a mighty high fee, having your passport expire abroad could easily be the worst thing to happen to you. Save yourself the suffering and double, triple, and quadruple check your passport expiration date before you leave. As for those collegiettes who don’t have a passport or need to renew theirs, make getting a new one your top priority. Generally, it takes 4-6 weeks for your new passport to be created and completed. However, if you just realized you’re in need of a new passport and you’re leaving in less than a month, there are ways to speed up the process and help you out of your sticky situation. Lucky for us, the US government offers an expedited service for an additional $60 plus overnight shipping costs. While it may seem a little steep, getting your passport within 24 hours of your departure is a lot cheaper than rescheduling your plane. For absolutely everything there is to know about passports, check out the government’s guide to traveling.
The word visa gets tossed around a lot when it comes to traveling, but what exactly is a visa? If you’re planning to study abroad, then a student visa will allow you to stay in the country for a specific amount of time as a student. However, visas are dependent on where you are traveling to, how long you will be there, and what you are doing there. “Contacting the local embassy for the country you are traveling to will provide the most up-to-date and accurate information,” recommends Truong.
Just like a passport, it’s best to get your visa completed and out of the way as soon as possible: “Apply for your visa when the school or program tells you to. Don’t put it off because it does take a long time,” says Hannah Anderson from the University of St. Andrews, who studied abroad in Scotland. To get your hands on a visa, you can go to the country’s embassy, consulate, or a specified post office. But before you do anything, check what the country’s specific process is for obtaining your visa; every country has a slightly different process. Additionally, each country requires you bring certain documents with you when applying for a visa. “When I applied for my French visa they were very specific about which consulate I went to and what I brought,” Michelle Lewis, a graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill who studied abroad, says.
Carmen Ray, a graduate from Binghamton University, shared her visa story: “I didn't have to apply for a visa beforehand because I was in the country for less than six months. The UK in particular has a system where, so long as you're in the country for less than six months, they'll give you your visa at the gate when you get there. You fill out a landing card, have all of your paperwork with you (i.e. acceptance letter, housing list, proof of payment and that you have enough money that you won't be working there) and you promise not to do any volunteer work or actual work while you're there and they let you go ahead. So it's a good idea to make sure you check what the visa laws are for the amount of time you're staying, because knowing that we could get in as students for under six months without all of the application hassle was a great plus.”
A complete list of everything you need for every country can be found here—check before you go and avoid the hassle!
Let me guess: you thought you were finished getting shots after your 16th birthday? Well, there’s a possibility that you’re in for a few more. According to Truong, countries in Latin America and Asia tend to require vaccinations. It’s also very common throughout Africa. But of course, there are other countries here and there that insist you get specific vaccinations before you cross their borders (usually it’s a simple hepatitis shot). Before you jump to anything too quickly, call your doctor and ask their opinion on what vaccinations will keep you healthy (and happy) while you’re away. If you’re studying abroad through a school program, they’ll usually provide you with a list of the specific vaccinations you need, or you can call or e-mail with any questions. Contacting the country’s embassy is also another option. For a complete list of the do’s and don’ts of vaccinations, check out The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.