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Student exchange is one of the most worthwhile experiences available in colleges and universities today, though preparing to study abroad isn’t something which happens overnight.  Between updating your passport, researching your new destination, sorting out your finances and many other little “to-dos”, the planning involved before your departure can often take a few months – a lot more preparation goes into studying abroad than simply packing a quick suitcase the night before.

Though that’s not to mean you should be discouraged – studying abroad will without a doubt rank as one of the most amazing experiences of your life, and while your list of “to-dos” may appear long to begin with, most of the time it’s the case of being full with small, but very important items.

Use the following pre-depature checklist and you’ll be fine – this is a list of everything you need to organize before leaving to study abroad!

Pre Departure Checklist

Everything You Need to Organize Before Leaving to Study Abroad

Do Your Research

As soon as you receive that letter of acceptance, start researching your host country to make the transition from tourist to local a smooth one.  Educate yourself about local customs, current events and laws, and invest in a really good guidebook like Lonely Planet or Frommers.

If the country you’re visiting speaks a foreign language, also invest in a phrase book, and make sure you master some basic words and phrases to know in every language which will help you get by.

Having a plan for your arrival and your first 24 hours on the ground is usually very helpful; normally your host organization will have organized an orientation of some sort.

Source as much pre-departure orientation information from your university or the organization assisting you as possible. Those coordinating your program may even have a checklist already set which they can send through.

Orientation information you need to know about includes necessary travel documents, flight and travel arrangements, accommodation, health and safety, insurance, host-country culture, financial considerations and obligations.

Accommodation is generally arranged for you by your study abroad program, though if not included, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to find appropriate housing. Ask others from your program for recommendations, and if you’re enrolling directly in a university abroad, there will usually be a student housing office that you can contact for assistance.

Credit Transfer

Blogging Sydney Blog Computer Laptop

You’re most likely having your international courses count as credit towards your university degree at home. Make sure that you have made all the necessary arrangements to ensure that you are granted credit for any course work you complete overseas.

International Student Identity Card

These cards are like gold and will save you hundreds of dollars all over the world! Card holders save money on sightseeing, restaurants, museum admission, movies, tours, clothing, transportation and so much more!

Student IDs issued by your home university usually won’t be accepted overseas, however cards issued by ISIC are – and you can apply easily online!

Electronic Copies of all Important Documents

Passport stamps

Copy all of your important documents (passport, credit cards, ID, insurance, itinerary) and email scanned copies to yourself. Then if you do happen to lose anything, you can always print it out from your closest internet café.

Keep the originals in a safe location; you’re going to be staying put for a while so you don’t need to be carrying them on you.

Make sure you include your passport, medical/immunization records, credit cards and phone numbers, insurance cards and claim forms, and anything else which would make your life hell if you misplaced while overseas.

Emergency Plan

Create a list of emergency contacts (all the people you could contact if you need help), and keep this list handy at all times (keep a copy of this list with your important documents too).

Make sure you’ve included the contact information for people like your mentors and teachers at your host university, the emergency services number in your host country (ie 911 in the US or 000 in Australia), and it probably wouldn’t hurt to keep the contact details of your classmates and friends abroad. Also include the number for your bank to report lost and stolen credit cards.

By this same token, remember to leave your family and friends with ways to contact you if an emergency does arise while you’re abroad. And pre-organize how you will stay in touch with home while abroad: ie will you use a local cellphone, Skype, email, a calling card?

Sign up for Class Trips

You shouldn’t be chained to a desk for the duration of your study – you’re in another country, and often the best learning experiences happen outside of the classroom!

The highlights of my time studying abroad were the field trips. You’ll see a side of the country that you wouldn’t have been able to see on your own.

Most of these field trips are organized well in advance, and spaces are limited and fill up fast. Be sure to keep an eye out for class field trips which take your fancy and sign up before you arrive. Bring a backpack for weekend trips.

Finances

Pexels Money

The most important part of organizing your finances is to know what is being covered and what is not. Most international student exchange programs include accommodation, for instance, though some do not, so make sure you’re fully aware of all inclusions before you make a financial plan.

Generally the fees for tuition and accommodation are required in advance, and in some instances you may be eligible for financial aid or government grants and loans. Check with the student exchange office on campus for information about any grants or financial aid which may be available.

Establish a daily budget for when you’re away and make sure you stick to it. Organize a few different forms of payment which are accessible to you overseas before you go (ie travelers checks, cash, credit cards etc).

You will need to budget for food, stationary, school supplies and general living expenses while abroad. It’s generally a good idea to also travel with an emergency fund ($300) in local currency, and we advise to take this with you on the plane. (Check out our “Top Tips for Keeping Money Safe Abroad“).

If you’ll still be paying for expenses back home (like rent), set up regular payments so you won’t have to worry about it while you’re away. Consider signing a Power of Attorney so that a trusted family member or friend can handle financial affairs on your behalf while you’re away.

Notify your bank of your travel plans so that they don’t freeze your credit cards while you’re abroad.

Health and Immunizations

Immunization

Photo credit: Pan American Health Organization PAHO

It’s a good idea to have a full physical and dental check up before you leave the country, and it’s important to  check whether you need any immunizations for the country you’re traveling to.

Those with a pre-existing medical condition should arrange to have enough medication to last the entire trip (ladies, this includes birth control), and it’s always helpful for potential emergency situations if you’re prepared with a letter from your doctor or pharmacist describing your condition and the medications you require.

Additionally, make sure your university knows about any medications you’re taking in case anything happens.

Travel Medical Insurance

If the program you are studying with does not include insurance, you will need to provide proof that you have adequate coverage, and in fact, some countries won’t even let you in without proof of travel health insurance.

We recommend the GeoBlue Navigator health plan, as it meets the needs of International Students and Faculty by offering comprehensive worldwide benefits without the typical limits, eligibility conditions and benefits exclusions common among traditional plans.

GeoBlue Navigator is the premier health plan for students worldwide because it combines these benefits with concierge-level medical assistance and easy access to an elite community of carefully selected hospitals and doctors in over 180 countries. Additionally, GeoBlue doctors and hospitals bill them directly so you don’t have to worry about filing a claim, and you don’t have to lay out any cash.

Their brilliant mobile app helps you locate your closest medical facility, and also consists of over 5,000 commonly used medical terms and 4,000 medical health phrases in dozens of languages. GeoBlue Navigator gives international students peace of mind, knowing they always have the freedom to access top medical care and benefits no matter where their studies take them.

To apply for coverage with GeoBlue or obtain a free quote, contact Timothy Jennings at IndividualHealth.com.

Get a Free Quote

Pre Departure Checklist: Have You:

(Copy and paste into a word document for your own records!)

  • Updated your passport and checked that it will be valid for 6 months beyond your anticipated return. (Take several passport-size photos abroad with you).
  • Applied for any required visas.
  • Arranged for absentee voting (if applicable).
  • Researched your host country.
  • Purchased adapters for electrical appliances.
  • Purchased a guidebook and phrasebook for your host country. (Also consider printing a metro plan).
  • Organized a plan for the first 24 hours on the ground.
  • Sourced pre-departure information from your host university.
  • Checked if accommodation is covered for you.
  • Made all arrangements for credit transfer.
  • Got an International Student Identity Card.
  • Scanned electronic copies of all important documents.
  • Created a list of emergency contacts.
  • Signed up for class trips.
  • Sorted out a daily budget for your time abroad.
  • Checked your eligibility for financial assistance.
  • Organize different forms of payment which are accessible to you overseas.
  • Have an emergency fund in local currency.
  • Set up regular payments to cover any reoccurring costs at home.
  • Sign a Power of Attorney so that a trusted family member or friend can handle financial affairs on your behalf while you’re away.
  • Notify your bank of your travel plans.
  • Have had a full physical and dental check, and any appropriate immunizations.
  • Arranged for a supply of prescription drugs to get you through your whole trip.
  • Organized travel medical insurance (click for a quote from GeoBlue).

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits (order of appearance): Featured photo and Pinterest images CollegeDegrees360.

    74 Comments

  1. Sometimes I wish I’d grabbed the opportunity to study abroad, however when I was studying it wasn’t nearly as common as it is nowadays. To anyone doubting this, I’d say go for it as I’m sure that it’s an experience you will never forget!!

    • Absolutely – I’m trying to encourage as many people as possible, because it’s generally one of those things people look back on and wish they did.

      Definitely more available now than it has been in the past; you’ve now got options available for High School students as well – one of my cousins recently spent her year 10 in Germany and absolutely loved it. Highly recommend to all!

  2. Great checklist! This would have really been handy to have before I did my study abroad. I didn’t do too much planning, but thankfully it turned out ok! :)

    • Glad to hear you had a great student exchange! Feel free to pass it along to anyone you know of taking the same path :)

  3. I never studied abroad but would have loved to. All the same the idea of being organized is true whether going to study or going to see. A great reminder to all that preparation is essential to traveling the long and slow path.

    • Absolutely – preparation is key to any kind of travel :) Glad you enjoyed the post Tim!

  4. Whenever I read a study abroad post, I get this tinge of regret for not having done it when I was young and impressionable and carefree. I’d still love to do it today, but you don’t hear of too many people doing this at my age!

    • The great thing about university though is that it doesn’t discriminate against age :) I wasn’t able to take a full 6-12 month exchange program, but there are a tonne of great summer courses which are 4 week intensive units and probably a bit more realistic if you have commitments and responsibilities back at home. Highly recommend it!

  5. This reminds me of the time when I moved abroad. There were no blogs and barely any internet (late 90´s)
    This is a great resource for anyone moving abroad to study or enjoy a cultural immersion for a few months

    • Glad you find it a useful resource Molly! Really trying to make it as easy as possible for people to prepare, because I know first hand how overwhelming something this big can be. The easier and more straight forward everything in the preparation stage is, the smoother the transition abroad!

  6. Great list of things to remember! I shall be passing this on to my God Daughter who is studying languages and will be doing this kind of exchange next year

    • Glad to hear Fiona – let us know if she has any questions in the lead up to her trip. Always happy to help!

  7. This is a definitive guide, you should read if you are planning to move abroad to study.

    • Glad you’re impressed :) Feel free to pass it on to anyone you know who is taking up an experience studying abroad :)

  8. If I can study college again, I would love to study abroad. Yes, definitely.

    • Definitely take up the opportunity if you do! You’ll have such a fabulous time! Plus, no better excuse to travel :D

  9. Great checklist although neither I or my kids got to study abroad. But perhaps my grandkids! Thanks, Megan.

    • Definitely pass it through to the grandkids – student exchange is even available now in High School, so they should jump on that opportunity for sure!

  10. This is comprehensive and well thought out, fantastic post.

    • Glad you found it resourceful Noel. Feel free to pass it on to anyone you may know who’s about to study abroad!

  11. Very useful tips! I just shared this post with a friend who is going to study in Germany next semester.

    • Perfect, hope it helps! Let us know if she has any follow up questions, always happy to help :)

  12. Fantastic ideas – isn’t preparation always the key to success?

    • Absolutely! I was raised on the “6 P’s” – that prior planning prevents piss poor performance!

  13. how I wish I had have studies abroad when I had the chance! Your post is just what someone who’s about to go needs. Very well written and helpful.

    • Glad you found it informative Claire – feel free to pass this on to those who you know are preparing for their experience abroad!

  14. I’m sadly past the study abroad phase of life, but I think this list can be adapted to any travel abroad, really. You need to be prepared no matter when you’re going, and you’ve got some great points here.

    • Absolutely need to prepare for all aspects of travel whether you’re studying abroad or not. You’re correct that everything really can be applied into the broader sense of travel as a whole – especially the need for an emergency travel fund and the need for health insurance abroad :)

  15. My sister is about to leave Australia to do 6 months of study in the US. Am sending this to her!

    • Excellent, let us know if she has any follow up questions – always happy to help!

  16. What a comprehensive list! Great tips, Megan!

    • Glad you found the post helpful Anna! :)

  17. Such a help to have this info. When I took off, not to study but backpack, this would’ve been a great help.

    • Feel free to pass it along to other you know of beginning their own journey :) Thanks Elaine!

  18. Study abroad is a life-changing experience. It is so heartening to see more and more students opt in to this excellent way to get excited about travel and different cultures. Your guide is a terrific resource for parents and student alike.

    • Absolutely – and I’m glad you find this guide helpful from the standpoint of a parent Betsy; hopefully we can make their lives easier too knowing that they can work off a simple list to avoid the stress of missing anything :)

  19. I spent 5 months studying abroad (in Finland) and it was the best time of my life! Totally recommend it doing that! And this list covers just about everything to know before leaving!

    • Glad to hear we’ve covered all bases based on your experience Kami – and so glad to hear you had a brill time studying abroad – really is one of the best experiences ever!

  20. I love the idea to have a plan for the first 24 hours that you arrive. In that moment you are always exhausted from traveling and it’s so nice to have everything figured out!

    • I think that’s probably one of my favorite tips – something you really don’t ever think about, but it does really help when you’re too exhausted to sit down and try and plan/research. It’s really nice just to have an already set plan for what you need to do :)

  21. ALWAYS take emergency money, even on a regular vacation. You never know when the ATM will be not functioning, or you need to pay for something in cash you assumed your card would cover.

    • Absolutely – especially if you’re looking to take transportation like trains or buses within the first 24 hours – these generally don’t accept credit cards and it’s important to have the local cash.

      And yes, absolutely no worse feeling than being stuck in an emergency situation with no financial resources!!

  22. Great list. I’ve lived abroad but hadn’t thought of a lot of these. Really it’s a good list for anyone moving abroad.

    • Glad we could help out :)

  23. Great list, Meg! This makes me remember the time that I didn’t manage to grab an exchange program abroad… just because I was a year younger. *saddest face ever*

    • Hopefully you’ve still got the chance! The cool thing is you can actually find short study courses abroad like 4 week intensive units, and some of the time I don’t believe you have to be affiliated with a a university. Highly recommend if you’re still wanting to take in the experience :)

  24. Really great and useful tips Meg!
    Sharing it right now with my cousin, she is planning to study abroad and I’m giving her all the support!!!
    Happy travels,
    Nat :-D

    • Glad you found it useful Natalie! Let your cousin know she’s more than welcome to reach out if she has any follow up Q’s in the lead up to her course. Always happy to help :)

  25. GREAT list. As a student that went on several trips overseas, this is a really great list. A lot of people actually do not know about the ISIC card and it can be extremely handy, especially in places like Europe. I know that when I was in Paris, I used it a lot of times to get into museums for free.

    • Oh absolutely – the International Student ID card is one of the best things I traveled with – saved me so much money throughout Europe and the UK – even on theatre tickets when I went to the West End in London, and surprisingly on clothes too – we found some retail stores in the UK offer 15% off for students. Loved it!

  26. So many good tips here Meg! I had several study abroad experiences and later actually worked as an on-site liaison for a study abroad program in Florence. I cannot wait until my daughter is old enough for her own adventures.

    • Glad to hear you had a great experience as well Elena – and I’m so glad to hear you’ll be encouraging your daughter to grab up similar opportunities as well. One of the best life experiences you can offer for your kids!

  27. Hi Meg,

    AWESOME primer! I never studied abroad but each question and answer would have been helpful for me. Heck, this stuff applies in many cases as a simple, non student, traveler. From the language stuff to much on this checklist it benefits any of us globetrotters out there.

    Ryan

    • Glad you enjoyed it and found it comprehensive Ryan! And you’re totally right, you can easily apply this checklist to general travel abroad.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  28. This is a really good and useful post with tons of practical tips, especially keeping copies of important documents! I know someone who got into some legal trouble abroad and having all his passport copies available really helped him out!

    • So glad you found it useful Francesca – and the whole ‘take a copy of your documents’ thing cannot be more important, not just for studying abroad, but travel in general too. So glad your friend was saved from having backups with him!

  29. That’s a pretty good list! I attended school & universities abroad so I know how daunting & exciting it can be at the same time. Having a good checklist like this certainly helps!

    • Glad you found it helpful! And absolutely – I would have loved something straightforward and to the point when I was preparing for my own study abroad, so I figured I would put it all into one complete guide and hopefully it can help someone else!

  30. The hard work of prepping for a study abroad trip is nothing compared to the payoff you get from it. Great article, Meg!

    • Oh absolutely agree – Amen to that!! Glad you enjoyed the article Mary :)

  31. To study abroad is the dream to many. Opportunities like this are really encouraging. Thanks for sharing.

    • Absolutely agree – glad you enjoyed the post Arjun :)

  32. This i an incredibly helpful article! I really want to go on an exchange program with university! I am planning to move for a whole year if possible. It is very exciting if I think about it but there are many serious things to consider before participating! Thanks for sharing!

    • Glad we could help you out Kathy! I absolutely encourage student exchange while at university – it was the best thing I ever did! There’s definitely a lot to sit down and organize and plan through, though set everything out on paper and into a check list and it’s a lot easier to contemplate and work through.

      You’ll have the best time! Feel free to reach out if you have any other Q’s :)

  33. Great article! I wish I had it when I was applying to study abroad. I got my Masters in Textile Design in Denmark and would say that was my best choice ever. After I graduated found a job connected to my specialty and few months later officially moved to live and work in Europe, Denmark. Now I live in Sweden, planning a move to Germany and I’m glad I took my chances on time. Greets!

    • Thanks Alease! So glad that you had such a fantastic experience studying abroad – and congrats on your career since! Sounds like an amazing opportunity to travel and live throughout Europe; you’ll love Germany, it’s such a fabulous country and everyone is so wonderful there.

      Happy travels & wishing you a safe move :)

  34. This is great, I only wish I would have read it 10 years ago! I never got to study abroad, but my cousin recently wrote about her experience on my blog, and I’ve now gotten nostalgic. Maybe in another life. Great post, thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Shannon, I’m glad you enjoyed the post :) If you ever find yourself going back to school, something to keep in mind!

  35. One thing to add to the Medical Advice section. If you’re from the USA, don’t buy prescription or OTC drugs before traveling. You can find almost everything abroad and it’s usually WAY cheaper :)

    • Great advice Brandon – thanks for the tip!

  36. What a comprehensive tips to success in life.Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Mia – glad we could help :) Enjoy your time abroad!

  37. Great article and very useful information

    • Thanks Jeni :) Glad you enjoyed the post X

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