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Making the decision to spend a semester outside of the country is not an easy one, but more often than not, it’s an incredibly rewarding time. So, if you’ve just received your study abroad acceptance letter, take a moment (or two or three) to congratulate yourself. You’re about to have one of the most life-changing, thought-altering experiences of your college career.

Gaining acceptance to your dream program is only one part of the preparation. Though your program may provide a pre-departure checklist, it will likely only provide travel and living information. If you choose to directly enroll in a university, you may not even have access to this type of resource. No matter the nature of your study abroad program, we want to help. Thus, we’ve developed a list of necessary tasks to complete before boarding your flight—all from a veteran study abroad student.

 

Get Your Papers in Order

Travel planning extends far beyond booking a flight and updating your passport. When applying for your abroad program, you may have been under the assumption that all you need is a passport to enter your host country. Unfortunately, some countries require extensive documentation and visas. If you chose to travel with and enroll in an American-based study abroad program (i.e. your program coordinates living arrangements, university enrollment, and the initial flights), you will likely find a list of necessary identification and documentation on their website. If you’re directly enrolling in a foreign university without assistance, check in with the American embassy in your new host country to figure out exactly which papers are necessary.

If you’re planning to spend a full semester in your abroad location, a simple travel visa probably won’t cut it. Depending on your country and program, you might need a student visa or a residency permit. These guidelines are most likely found on your program’s webpage, but you can also consult this handy resource provided by the U.S Department of State.

In addition to gaining the necessary travel documentation you should also keep a copy of your birth certificate, an additional piece of identification (a drivers’ license or state identification card), and a copy of your passport on-hand in case of emergencies.

 

Plan a Visit to the Doctor

This is an often overlooked, but necessary, step in preparing to travel. You should acquire a copy of your personal medical records in case of an emergency. Additionally, you may need special immunizations before traveling to specific countries. The Center for Disease Control has created a helpful guide to international immunization requirements. Moreover, your program may require you to purchase some type of travel health insurance. If it’s not listed in any of the materials provided by the program or university, contact your program director or international student administrator, respectively.

 

Plan Your Budget

Budgeting is tough, but getting your travel expenses in order is a great opportunity to practice your post-college budgeting skills. Remember, unless you have a work permit or visa, you will not be able to get a job in your host country. As a result, it’s important to take into account both daily and special expenses. Figure out how much money you have saved up, then set a daily spending limit. When calculating this number, do some research to find out what a typical meal might cost, as well as daily transportation and activity fees. You should also take into consideration how much you expect to cook for yourself, as well as any special, country-specific idiosyncrasies like tax and tip expectations.

It will also help to consider other less-frequent expenses. When calculating your budget, include weekend and break travel fees, entertainment and sightseeing costs, souvenirs, and emergencies, such as medical care. Also, before jetting off to Europe for the semester, contact your bank to let them know you’ll be out of the country. If you leave without contacting your bank, they will likely flag your credit or debit card for a strange charge, leaving you without access to funds until you can call. If you’re planning to travel while studying abroad, call your bank before each trip. The last thing you want is to be stuck in Montenegro with a dead phone and no access to your checking account. Trust me.

 

Research Your New Home

Culture shock is a very real phenomenon—take it from someone who tried, in earnest, to celebrate Thanksgiving, i.e. the most American Holiday Ever, while living in Istanbul, Turkey. Research is the easiest way to mitigate this inevitable stress. Before embarking, learn about the local culture and traditions of your host city, as well as the history of the country. This will allow you to better understand and adapt to your new life. If the country you’ve chosen has a primary language other than English, learning a few phrases before your trip will make the experience much more comfortable. There is nothing more stressful than sitting at a café on the first day of your abroad experience and not knowing how to ask for water.

If you will be living in a city, research the neighborhoods and acquaint yourself with the areas that can accommodate your biggest fear (reliable transportation, safe and quiet neighborhoods, access to American food). Especially if you plan to live away from your university (i.e. not on campus), it will help to plan commute routes in advance. Finally, to take full advantage of your time abroad, make a list of things you want to experience. This list might include everything from popular foods and drinks you want to try to places you’d like to visit on a long weekend.

 

Pack, But Not Too Much

This may be the most salient piece of advice you’ll get from this article: Do not over-pack. Before starting this process, check with your airline to determine their luggage allowances. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t need more than one large checked bag, one day bag (a backpack or small duffle bag as a carry-on), and one personal item, such as a smaller backpack or purse. Remember that, unless your travel plans include extended periods of time backpacking or camping, you’ll likely have access to everything you need once you arrive.

Traveling is easier and less stressful when you have fewer items to (literally) weigh you down. Moreover, packing light will allow you to avoid overweight fees when flying, both to your abroad location and on your flight back to the United States. Most study abroad programs include a suggested packing list, so check that out before purchasing luggage or supplementary items.

When gathering necessary items, think about what you use daily, as well as how your new home may impact that usage. For example, if you plan to use anything electronic, purchase a power adapter for chargers. If you have a vision impairment, be sure to bring enough contact lenses to last you the semester, or an extra pair of glasses should anything happen to your primary set.

 

Figure Out What to Do with Stuff at Home

Before getting on your international flight, it’s imperative to find a home for your college belongings. What will you do with your dorm bedding? What about your textbooks? If you leave this task to the last minute, you may end up tossing valuable bedding, clothing, and notebooks in your dorm’s donation bin. It may seem like a drag now, but you’ll likely need these belongings once you return home. It’s one thing if you can take your extra belongings to, say, the parents’ house, but otherwise, a storage unit is likely your best option.

Closetbox offers convenient, secure, and cost-effective storage, but here’s the real kicker. We provide a complimentary pickup service and on-demand return when you get back from your trip. With us, you’ll never have to worry about the logistical hassles or the personal safety concerns of traditional self-storage facilities. We know that you have enough on your plate already.