If you’ve just been accepted into a study abroad program, congratulations! You’ll soon have the experience of a lifetime. But before you get carried away in the excitement, here are ten things you should take care of in your home country to prevent panic and provide ease of mind while abroad:
1. Notify your bank of when and where you’ll be abroad.
Contact your bank and let them know that you’ll be studying abroad in ______________ for ____ months from _______ to _______. This way, your bank won’t flag your ATM withdrawals and other transactions abroad. Some banks (e.g. Bank of America) will only keep a note on your account for 3 months, so you may have to contact your bank a couple more times during your time abroad. It’s also a good idea to let your bank know every time you go on a trip outside of your host country.
2. Apply for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (and a debit card with no foreign ATM fees).
If you want to use a form of payment other than cash (for example, when you book travel, concert tickets, etc. online), get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. This post provides a comprehensive list of options. Most of these cards also have travel bonuses, which you can save up for future trips.
In addition to a credit card, you may also want to consider getting a Bank of America checking account. Bank of America is part of the Global ATM Alliance, which means you can make withdrawals from certain ATMs in each country within the alliance to avoid an international ATM access fee (usually a flat rate of $2-5)*. Whatever you withdraw will simply be converted into that day’s exchange rate. For example, if I use my Bank of America debit card to withdraw £40 from a Barclays ATM in the UK, I will withdraw $61.77 from my account (£1 –> $1.54 rate) – I won’t be charged an additional fee.
*Note that the banks in the Global ATM Alliance only correspond to the countries listed with them. If you withdraw from a Barclays ATM in Ireland (which is not part of the United Kingdom), you may still incur a foreign ATM access fee.
3. See your doctor.
Make an appointment for a physical to make sure you have no health issues before going abroad. You’ll also want to refill prescriptions and get vaccines, if necessary. In addition, check your health insurance policy, the national health insurance policy of your host country, and look into getting travel insurance.
4. Apply for your visa.
This process will differ depending on the country and length of stay, but give yourself enough time to gather the necessary documents to apply for your visa on time. As a study abroad student, you will likely need proof of your acceptance to your abroad program to apply for your visa. You might also need to show sufficient funds in your bank account for your stay and a receipt of a return flight purchase.
5. Make multiple copies of important documents.
Make copies of your passport, debit card, credit card, visa letter, etc. to have/use in case of emergency. Leave a copy of everything at home with your family, and keep a copy or two (in a secured location) in your new dorm/flat/apartment/house. If worse comes to worst, you’ll have access to all of your valuable information, which will make it easier to cancel cards or get a replacement passport.
6. Check the course requirements for your major.
I actually couldn’t register for my courses until I got to Bristol (I also couldn’t get them approved until I came back to California), but I knew that I could count up to two English courses from abroad for my major, and one Music course from abroad for my minor. Knowing my requirements helped me prioritize which classes to sign up for and gave me an idea of which ones would likely count toward my degree.
7. Put your cell phone bill on hold.
While you can get a temporary international plan for your phone, the easiest option is probably to put your cell phone bill on hold and either a) use your smartphone on Wi-Fi only or b) get a cheap pay-as-you-go phone in your host country (or c) don’t use a phone at all [probably only feasible for summer abroad students]). This post provides a pretty thorough explanation of how to use your phone abroad. I put my cell phone bill on hold for the five months I was abroad and got a “dumb” phone in the UK. I had to re-learn T9 and text my tweets, but it was sort of fun being ever-so-slightly disconnected from the online world.
8. Download a VPN.
Most (if not all) universities require and provide a campus VPN (virtual private network) to access the online library for certain publications/papers. By using your school’s VPN, you are not just accessing your campus network, but a network in the United States, which means you can watch your favorite US shows online while abroad. You can also use Google Voice to make free “domestic” (you won’t be domestic, but your IP address will be) calls to your friends and family back at home.
9. Sublet your room/space.
If you live in an apartment at your home university, find yourself a replacement for the semester/year that you’ll be gone. If you’re really planning ahead, figure out where you’ll be living when you get back, too (or at least list a few options to keep in mind for later).
10. Arrange/plan your transportation from the airport.
You might have booked your ticket and figured out your living/accommodation arrangements, but make sure you also figure out how to get from the airport to your university or other destination. If you’re taking a cab, check what the average cost is. If you’re taking public transportation, check which stops to transfer or get off at. Some airports also have direct shuttles to the city for an affordable price, so look into those as well.
Good luck! For those of you who are or have been abroad, what are your top preparation tips?