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