Please, please, for the love of all things traveling — if you ever decide to study abroad, start your pre-departure preparations as early as possible.
I know you’ve probably heard this from every advisor you’ve ever met with, but let me tell you — they give you that advice for a reason!
As I’m now ten days from flying out to England, you’d think I’d be putting the finishing touches on everything. However, I can confidently tell you that I am nowhere near ready to leave.
Looking back on the last three months, here are four things that I wish I would’ve gotten settled earlier — and my tips on how to avoid my mistakes yourself.
1. Get your passport and visa
Just because you already have a passport doesn’t mean you’re safe from this step — you should take a look at the expiration date. Many countries have stipulations that your passport must be valid up to six months after your study abroad ends. (Check out a helpful article on that here).
Next is visas. Basically they are official permission to be in a country, and they’re usually stamped in your passport. Every country has different visa requirements for students studying abroad — so as soon as you decide on a country, visit its government website to learn what you need to do.
NOW DO IT! DO IT EARLY! It’s really never too early to get started applying fora passport or visa. Okay, with visas there actually are rules limiting how early you can put in an application, but before that deadline you can still be getting the necessary documents together.
You definitely don’t want to end up like me — still waiting for my visa to come in with only 8 days before I fly out (it makes you suuupper nervous).
2. Figure out your housing plan before booking a flight
Depending on what kind of program you study abroad through, this section may not be as important to you. For example, many third party programs provide special housing for program participants — or maybe you’re taking part in a homestay.
If neither of those fit your situation (maybe you have to live in a dorm or find an apartment) it may be unclear exactly what day you need to arrive. So how do you figure it out?
Most universities make you sign a housing contract if you’re going to stay in a dorm — check that and see when the contract starts. Voila! There’s your ideal arrival date.
Finding an outside apartment is by far the most difficult option (and the one that I don’t really have any experience with). Fortunately, there are a ton of websites out there that can help you navigate the apartment search process (this GoOverseas blog has a list of some).
Once you know that you’ll have a place to stay when you arrive, book a flight! If you’re looking for something cheap (and aren’t we all), try discount airlines and be open to longer layovers. Just watch out for those baggage fees!
3. Make a budget and talk to your bank
Ok, everyone understands what I mean when I say to make a budget. Sit down with your parents and — keeping exchange rates in mind — figure out exactly how much you’ll need for rent, food, and fun.
Google is your best friend here — there’s tons of information out there on how much things cost where you’ll be studying abroad. Be honest about how much you’re likely to spend so that your budget will actually hold up once you’re over there.
Another item on the checklist is making sure your bank knows that you’ll be abroad. Find out what the ATM withdrawal fees and foreign transaction fees are and see if your bank has a special reduced rate travel card (because 3% on every purchase adds up).
4. Plan your packing
I have no room to talk here, as I still haven’t put a single piece of clothing in my suitcase (yikes). But really, knowing what you need ahead of time so you can make sure you have everything is the way to go.
Keep in mind the fashion norms of your destination country while packing. For example, Europe tends to be more formal than the United States, so our sweatpants and t-shirts everyday won’t cut it there. Many countries also dress more modestly than us, so check before bringing those tank tops or crop tops.
All in all, if I had to give only one piece of advice to someone planning to study abroad, I’d say the following:
Start earlier than you think you need to, and go to others who have studied abroad for any and every question you may have.