8 Ways to Prepare Before Going Abroad

Your applications have been submitted, your flights are booked, and now all there is left to do is wait for your departure date! Getting ready to study abroad is an exciting process, but it can also be a complicated one. Take advantage of this time to prepare yourself for your upcoming trip next semester. There are tons of things to take into consideration, so get started now!

1. Passport specifics

Naturally, the first requirement for going abroad is having a passport—specifically, an updated passport. If you don’t yet have a passport, you’ll need to visit your local post office and start filling out the forms. Passports can take up to six weeks to process, so make sure you get yours ahead of time, so you’re not stressing out at the last minute! If you need to, you can always have your passport expedited for an additional fee. You can find out where to go in your area to get a passport on the U.S. Department of State website.

Even if you already have a passport, that doesn’t mean you're totally prepared! It's important to make sure that your passport hasn’t expired and won’t expire during your time abroad. Some countries even frown upon using a passport that is nearing its expiration date. Do a little research to find out if your passport’s expiration date might be an issue in your host country.

Donna Amore, a senior at the University of Scranton, had some passport trouble when she was traveling between Australia and Indonesia. “When I went to Indonesia, I almost didn't get into the country because of their embassy rules. People aren't allowed into the country if his or her passport expires within six months. Long story short, the head of customs made an ‘exception’ for me,” she says.

Risking a passport faux pas can get you in a sticky situation, like having to spend extra money making calls and visits to a U.S. Embassy in order to fix your problem. Save yourself the trouble (and money!) by ensuring that you have an updated passport.

2. Academic credit

We know you’re probably looking forward to all the sightseeing you’ll be doing during your time away, but remember that academics are a part of studying abroad, too! Education systems differ from country to country, so you’ll want to do a little research into how your host country operates.

“To be honest, I didn’t realize how different the U.K. schooling system is from ours in the U.S., so dealing with transferring credits was a headache I didn’t anticipate,” says Cassidy Hopkins, a senior at Emerson College who studied abroad in London. “It’s important to make sure you check with your academic supervisors on which credits will transfer and which won’t—and whether non-transferring credits will affect when you want to graduate.”

You don’t want to be discredited for all the hard work you do while you’re abroad, so be sure to do some research and get in touch with your academic advisor before you head out of the country. Class length and worth can differ depending on the school, so you'll have to double check that your classes abroad will fit back into your graduation scheme at your home school.  

3. Visa requirements

When you’re visiting a foreign country for more than a couple of weeks for vacation, you need to have a visa. Depending on where you’ll be spending your semester, there will be different requirements for a variety of different visa options. Your visa requirements and costs will depend on where you’re staying, how long you’re there and what you’re doing there. For example, if you plan to get a job or internship while abroad, your visa may differ from the typical student visa.

Since visas differ depending on the circumstances, you’ll want to research what type of visa you'll need for your specific program well in advance. It can take a few months to process a visa, so make sure you plan ahead! Look at your country’s government websites to see which kind of visa you should apply for and what you’ll have to do in order to obtain the visa before you leave for your time abroad. If your school has a study abroad office, consider making an appointment, so an advisor can help you sort out your preparations.

4. Financial aid

You may be all set in terms of finances for school in the U.S., but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your financial aid and scholarships will transfer to your host country. If you’re participating in an external program that doesn’t have an affiliation with your home school, your financial aid may not apply when you’re abroad.

Natalie Dunn, a sophomore at Adrian College, is preparing to go abroad and has been making an effort to understand her financial situation. “I need to know how (or if any of) my financial aid will transfer and how it will affect my scholarships here at Adrian,” Natalie says. If you’re unsure whether your financial aid package will apply to your study abroad program, get in touch with a financial advisor at your school in the U.S. to find out.

5. Banking and funds

Speaking of finances, you’ll also want to find out how your banking will change when you go abroad. Many local banks charge an international fee when you cross borders, and you’ll want to avoid that whenever possible. Some banks have international partnerships, so do some research to see if your bank has a partner abroad that will waive the international fees.

Additionally, if you don’t tell your bank that you’re leaving the country, they may flag your international purchases as suspicious behavior and freeze your account. Avoid the confusion (and the extra costs!) by calling or visiting your bank, asking about international fees and listing out all the countries you plan to visit during your time abroad.

You will also probably want to bring extra cash with you when you leave for your program. Some countries’ visa policies even require you to have a certain amount of money in your account before you head over.

“In order to be given a student visa for a semester in Italy, you'll need a minimum of $4,000 in your bank account or $8,000 if you're on a joint account with your parents,” says Anai Perez, a junior at St. John’s University. “This is a security measure for both you and the Italian government, in case you have an emergency. You can fly back with no problem instead of being stranded in the country, or if you suffered a medical emergency, you can pay for it yourself instead of the Italian government having to foot the bill.” Make sure you double check if your host country has any special financial requirements!

6. Medical care

Instead of worrying about your health when you’re in your host country, figure out all of your medical details now while you have your regular doctor at hand. Health insurance translates differently depending on the country and the institution your program is associated with, so make sure you sort it out before you hop on a plane.

Keep in mind that health providers differ from country to country, and you may not have access to the same kind of care as you do in the United States. If you take prescription medicine, you’ll want to get as many refills as you’ll need for your entire time abroad, unless you want your parents to mail you your prescriptions regularly (which can be pretty pricey). Do yourself a favor and think ahead when it comes to medicine and healthcare!

7. Language differences

For many collegiettes studying abroad, language can be a big barrier. If you’re not familiar with the native language of the country you’re heading to, take the time to learn some common and important words and phrases. Even if you’re going to be taking classes at an institution that teaches in English, it’s always smart to learn the native language—and locals will appreciate your effort!

If you’re going to a country that speaks another language, now is the time to start learning. You can download lingual learning apps like Duolingo, buy Rosetta Stone, or look online for helpful tools.

Even if your host country’s primary language is English, the chances are that it’s not the same dialect of English that we speak in the United States. Make an effort to immerse yourself in your host country's culture by learning the local words and phrases.

8. American necessities

What we consider a commodity in America might be a rare sight in your host country—especially when it comes to food products. For example, while we might find an abundance of peanut butter products here in the U.S., sold in every shape, size, and flavor imaginable, peanut butter can be hard to come by in Europe. What you might find easily in America could come at a higher price (or not come at all) in your host country, so come prepared!

Michelle Lu, a junior at Pepperdine University, prepared for her semester in China knowing that she might not have access to the same things that she does at home. “Some things that I wanted to bring ahead of time were allergy meds and sickness meds (like Advil), because you don't know if the ones there are real, good, or the same dosage,” she says. Michelle also said it was hard to find the same beauty and feminine products in China, as they were either more expensive or made of different materials.

To save yourself some money and trouble, look up what American necessities you might not be able to find in your host country. Do a little research online or look at blog posts from students who've studied abroad in your host country to see what you might want to fit in your suitcase!

Check these preparations off your list sooner rather than later and your semester abroad will go off without a hitch!