Getting to study in a foreign country for a semester is an incredible experience, and it will likely shape you in ways you never imagined. When you leave home behind and embrace another culture and lifestyle, new opportunities abound. You may make new friends for life, find new passions or even decide that you want to work overseas someday. While studying abroad is on many students’ bucket lists, it does take some thought and careful planning. These five must-know tips will help you choose the perfect country to study in and make the most out of your time overseas.
You Need to Get Paperwork Done Early
Do you have a passport, or is yours expired? Make sure that you have an active, valid U.S. passport before travelling, and look into your desired country’s student visa requirements. These include financial requirements as well as educational requirements you’ll have to both prove and maintain while you’re in the country.
You will have to be mindful about how long you’re in the country, including when you arrive and depart. European tourist visas have a 90-day limit, and travelling to multiple countries in the Schengen Area count toward this number. Other foreign countries might only allow you to enter 30 days before the start of your visa. Make sure you are fully clear on all the appropriate dates, deadlines and requirements before booking a flight.
Be Skilled at Money Management
In addition to paying for tuition, you will have to consider currency conversions and general living expenses abroad. Do you know how much a doctor’s visit costs, where to go when you need basic supplies and how much a calling card is? These expenses are often overlooked by overzealous students who forget that after the initial awe of moving to a foreign country wears off, they have to go about their daily lives.
You’ll want to stay actively on top of the currency exchange rates between your native and target country. This will impact how much money you have when you arrive, as well as how much you’ll reasonably be able to afford spending each month. Secure your housing first of all because this will be your largest expense. If your school is covering housing, that’s great, but make sure you ask about any additional fees such as internet access, utilities, waste removal, etc.
One way you can finance your trip abroad and gain a little extra security is through a private loan. Student loans come with restrictions that personal loans don’t have, as a private lender lets you have easy access to cash when you need it on your own terms. Repayments can be delayed or scheduled to fit into your budget. For someone planning to go overseas for a prolonged period, it’s a good idea to have as much discretionary income as possible.
You May Need Vaccine Records
Every foreign country sets its own rules with vaccination requirements, though the majority are now requiring all foreign students to provide proof of COVID-19 immunization. Research the specifics on everything you should know about COVID-19 and travel so you do not find out the hard way you have missed a step or requirement delaying your trip. You may also be required to get other vaccines for local pathogens that aren’t a threat in your home country.
Make sure you also get a full physical exam and prescriptions for any medications you require prior to your flight. If you have existing health conditions, like diabetes or asthma, you’ll want to make sure that you have access to care and regular medicine. Reach out to your foreign school ahead of time and ask them what resources are in place to help students access medications and healthcare.
Do Not Travel Alone
You may have visions of yourself backpacking through Europe or Asia, but it is dangerous for foreigners to wander around any country without people knowing their whereabouts. Even if you don’t stand out like the most oblivious, fanny-pack-adorned tourist, you’re still more likely to be mugged or harassed as a foreigner. If you’re a woman, this is even more true. Make sure that you always let people know where you’re going, whether it’s a weekend trip to a neighboring country or just out to grab a bite to eat in the afternoon. Use Find My Friends on iPhone with your family and a trusted friend in the same country.
Whatever you do, don’t disappear and ghost people for hours or even days at a time. You should always have your phone with you, not on airplane mode, and fully charged whenever you leave the house. Nothing is more important and valuable than your safety, so look after yourself even more than usual when travelling in a foreign country.
Tell Your Bank You’ll Be Traveling
If you do not give your bank a heads-up before leaving, they may freeze your card or lock your account when you try to purchase something overseas. If it’s a holiday or weekend, you may have a hard time getting in touch with customer service. What if you don’t have access to Wi-Fi or cell service? You could be stranded for days without any money. Make sure that you tell your bank before you leave when you will be departing, where you are headed and how long you’ll be there. They can update your account to give you clearance for overseas use.