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12 Things No One Thinks to Do Before Studying Abroad

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Saint Mary's chapter.

Studying abroad can be one of the best and most exciting times of your college experience. However, there’s a lot to do to prepare for it! Once you finish the application process and get accepted, you have to go through to process of getting a student visa (if you need one, but each country’s laws vary) and organizing everything you’ll need to bring to get through the semester.

From one Smick to another, here’s a few tips I came up with to help your semester abroad run a bit more smoothly than mine has so far.

1. Sign into any app on your phone you think you could possibly need. 

Think of banking apps and Venmo, messaging apps, social media apps, etc. Most apps require you to confirm your account and identity when you log onto a new device, like the new iPhone you might’ve gotten for Christmas right before leaving to study abroad in the spring! Log into these apps before you leave so that if you decide to change your SIM card (which I highly recommend because it’s so much cheaper than keeping your American plan), you won’t have to reconfirm your identity and go through the hassle of dealing with customer service to figure that mess out. 

2. *iPhone users: bring the SIM card slot opener that came with your iPhone (if you still have it). Most of the newer iPhones now come with specific SIM card slot openers that easily pop it open and allow you to change your SIM card. If you don’t have one, straighten a paper clip and stick it in the hole to open the slot.

If you switch to an international carrier (I’m using Vodafone Italy until mid-May and then I’ll switch back to my Verizon number), keep the thick, plastic card the itty-bitty SIM card was popped out of. When you get a chance, TAPE your American SIM card to it and put it in a safe place that you’ll remember so you can find it quickly when you get back to the States.

3. Check the legal status of your medications. 

This is mainly for individuals with chronic medical conditions. In the United States, like many other countries, certain drugs are given a “schedule class”, which gives more information mostly regarding the drug’s potential for abuse. I take Prozac for OCD, and Prozac isn’t a controlled substance. However, my ADHD medication, Vyvanse, is a stimulant and Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act in the US, meaning it has a high potential for abuse if not taken as prescribed. I’m currently spending my semester in Rome and brought enough of both my Prozac and Vyvanse to last me the entire semester. While I could get a prescription for my Prozac if I needed it, I cannot get a prescription for my ADHD medication anywhere in Rome because they’re illegal in Italy and people who bring these medications into the country need to have proof that the prescription is for them (like the prescription and a letter from your doctor stating its purpose).

Check each country’s laws about the legality of any prescriptions you may have. Some countries may require you to have a license to carry your medication (such as the United Kingdom), which could take months to get, depending on the country. If this is the case, contact the nearest Consulate (if you’re still in the US) or Embassy of the country you plan on visiting and ask about your options. If you absolutely CANNOT legally bring the medication into the country, speak to your prescribing doctor as soon as possible about what you should do. For example, my doctor told me that if I’m unable to legally bring my ADHD medication into a country, I am able to skip it for a very short period of time (2-3 days at most) before any serious side effects set in.

I am by no means an expert on ADHD medication or prescription drugs in general. Please discuss any possible changes to your daily prescription routine with your prescribing physician before making any changes.

Also, keep your prescriptions in their original bottles with the label stating your name, doctor’s information, and the prescription information!

4. Set up a final check-up with your doctor before you leave the States.

In addition to the medical check-up SMC requires before you go abroad, I recommend setting up one final check-up with your doctor before you leave. I set up an appointment two weeks before I left for Rome and although they weren’t required, I left the appointment with a Tdap booster and a optional Meningitis B shot that my doctor recommends to all her patients, regardless of their travel plans.

Get official copies of your prescriptions and, for controlled medications, letters stating the need for your medication. You can do this at your final check-up (if you make one) or just by calling your doctor’s office! I have copies of prescriptions for all of my medications in a binder in my apartment – both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. In addition to my Prozac and Vyvanse, I take Zyrtec-D and Flonase. I simply asked my doctor to give me a copy of all the prescriptions she prescribed to me and to write prescriptions for my Zyrtec-D and Flonase by telling her the dosage and quantity of pills or bottles I was bringing with me.

Since ADHD medication is so heavily regulated in Italy, I also asked my doctor to write letters for each of my medications. In the letters, my doctor wrote the trade name, chemical compound name, daily dosage, supporting diagnosis, and the quantity of the medications that I will be carrying with me. She also made her own addition and stated that each of these drugs is not a narcotic. Finally, my doctor printed these letters on her office’s letterhead and signed them before giving them to me.

5. If you wear glasses or contacts or both, get these prescriptions, too!

I heard from a fellow Smick that when she went to Rome for her sophomore year, she only brought one pair of glasses and broke them the second week of classes. Do yourself a favor and bring a few pairs of glasses and more contacts than you’ll need for the semester in addition to print-outs of these prescriptions!

Over winter break, I ordered three pairs of glasses from Zenni Optical for around $50 with expedited shipping. And to make this deal even sweeter, their prices include the frames AND lenses!

6. Make copies of everything. Make MULTIPLE copies.

Passport photo page; student visa page (if it’s in your passport); driver’s license; international insurance card; vaccine history; medicine prescriptions; glasses and contact prescriptions; birth certificate or Social Security Card (if you have them handy); ICE contacts (at home and at least one friend abroad); a typed page with your blood type, medical conditions and any medications and the dosages you take for those conditions, etc. I also made copies of my credit cards and wrote down the US customer service numbers for my parents in case my cards were lost or stolen (which unfortunately has already happened to me).

I made at least two copies of all of those documents and kept one set of copies with my parents in case they needed that information and I brought a set with me and keep it in a place that my roommate knows in case we’re in a situation where a doctor may need that information about me.

7. Consider getting an international calling subscription through Skype

To conserve the very limited international minutes Vodafone gives me, I’ve been using data and FaceTime audio calls to contact my family members with iPhones and Skype audio calls to reach my dad on his Android phone. My Vodafone plan covers calling other Italian phone numbers when I’m in Italy, but I found that I couldn’t call any US numbers while I was outside Italy in the UK. I had an issue with my credit card and couldn’t reach the international customer service line, so I signed up for a free month of unlimited calling to the US through Skype and was able to use Skype to call my bank. After my free month, my US calling subscription will cost me $3.65 a month, and I view the extra cost as being totally worth it to contact my family and my banks on my trips outside of Italy.

8. Save your credit card’s international customer service phone number as a contact in your phone.

If your cards are lost or stolen, the first thing you need to do is freeze them if you can (not all cards have this capability yet) and if you can’t get your cards back, call the international customer service number found on the back of your card and cancel your cards.

Unfortunately, I’ve found out the hard way that even some of the biggest banks in the US can’t mail a new credit card overseas (again, this might be different for American banks with international branches). When my wallet was lost, I had to cancel my cards and have the banks expedite new ones to my home address. When they arrived at my house, my parents overnighted them through FedEx to me. This is not a cheap option, and I hope none of you have to go through this, but it’s always better to be prepared!

9. Set up travel notices for your initial travel overseas and keep them updated.

Some banks may let you do this online, but others you’ll have to call! Call your bank before you leave and tell the the exact date you’ll be arriving overseas. If you have a international connecting flight (ex. Washington, D.C. to Copenhagen to Rome), make sure you mention this stop, too, just in case you want to use a credit or debit card to get food or buy something in the airport before you reach your final destination.

Some banks will allow you to set a travel notice for extended periods of time (ex. My bank let me set a travel notice for Italy until May), but others may only last for a month at a time. Find out what your bank or credit card company allows and update your travel notices before you visit another country and especially if they expire each month.

10. If you switch to an international SIM card, call your bank(s) and let them know about this change ASAP!

I’m mentioning this because many times your bank account or credit card will be tied to your phone number so your bank can easily reach you to verify your identity and any purchase they deem suspicious or fraudulent. Some banks may not be able to add an international phone number to your account, like JPMorgan Chase, and this might be because they don’t have international locations unlike other American banks, such as Bank of America. Ask your bank if they can add an international phone number on your account and contact you on it.

If your bank’s Customer Service gives you trouble about not having an American phone number in which they can contact you, ask if they can confirm your identity through public record. What this means is that they will ask you questions about yourself that they come up through looking at information about you that is a part of public record. It’s much easier and less scary than it sounds and most banks will send you to their Security department to go through this process.

11. Sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

If you register each international trip you make for STEP and something happens in the country you happen to be in at that moment, the United States government will take extra measures to make sure you are okay and unaffected by the recent events. If not for yourself, do this for your parents to help ease any fears they might have about your international travels!

12. Leave your blow dryer, flat iron, and curling wand at home – SERIOUSLY!

My own parents and extended family tried to tell me that I’d be find to bring my nice Sam Villa blow dryer and Hot Tools flat iron to Rome and wouldn’t have a chance of blowing a fuse. We blew a fuse in my apartment by trying to use a heating pad, so I’m beyond glad I didn’t bring my hair tools and chance frying them. Plus, I’ve already heard stories about Smicks and students from other schools blowing a fuse and frying their hair tools this semester. Do yourself a favor and just find hair tools as soon as your plane touches down in your new country. REMEMBER: US plugs + foreign wall sockets ≠ a good scenario and happy neighbors.

Grace Kelly

Saint Mary's '20

Grace is a senior at Saint Mary's College pursuing a degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. She's a Kansas native and Hoosier transplant nine months out of the year and when not doing homework, writing for HC or her blog (www.agraceintheworld.com), you can find her binge-watching Netflix or Hulu, dancing like nobody's watching, cheering on the Fighting Irish, napping, or hanging out with family and friends.  
A senior at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, IN studying Theatre, Film, and English. An avid lover of indie films, thrift stores, and color coding. Trying to do it all, sometimes succeeding.