Study Abroad 101: Practical Tips (Part Two)

In Study Abroad 101: The Ultimate FAQ, we explored the broad issues of how to find a program that fulfills your home university's requirements, and how your advisors can help ensure a smooth credit transfer.

We also looked at the value of study abroad providers, i.e., organizations with experience in placing and serving students abroad. Providers take care of students throughout their time abroad — a service that offers great value (and comfort) for many families.

In Part Two, we cover some of the nuts and bolts of studying abroad. Below is a checklist of what you’ll need to do to prepare for a stint abroad.

What Do I Need to Know About Visas?

When we say “visa,” we don’t mean the credit card, although that can also be helpful. A visa functions as a passport-accompanying permit that allows you to visit or study in another country. There is no standard rule for visas; each country has its own process. Your length of stay, your interest in working, and your level of study will affect the type of visa you’ll need. Check the website of your destination’s embassy for details about this process. You can also find information about visa requirements for Americans on the U.S. State Department website.

For students with non-American passports, studying abroad may entail a different process. Some countries require that you visit the embassy or consulate for an interview. Others allow you to use a service to process your visa. Some won't require anything at all. Do your homework!

How Do I Get to My Study Abroad Destination?

The journey isn't half the fun; it can be confusing, expensive, and filled with problems. As a student, you may be able to get a financial break from some airlines, so you should look into obtaining special student airfares.There are also travel agencies that cater to students; ones like StudentUniverse offer exclusive discounts and other benefits.

Before you leave, you should explore your options for weekend excursions and extra travel time before or after your program. For example, Europe's advanced rail system offers student passes that allow significant savings over single tickets, and if you buy a pass before you leave, you can save even more. While you’re abroad, take advantage of the opportunities you’ll have to travel — even outside of your host country.

Where Will I Live Once I Arrive?

Americans aren't the only ones studying abroad; there are many students from all corners of the globe who participate in what are generally called exchange programs. Sometimes, these students need roommates, so you can consider living with them. Keep in mind that, just like at home, local landlords and rental agents can be can be difficult to negotiate with.

Sometimes a study abroad program or provider will arrange for students to stay at a university’s dormitories. Ask your study abroad advisors whether this is a possibility.

Another option is to work with your program administrators to find a reputable homestay option. With homestays, you live with a local family who will house, support, and even feed you while abroad. If you're going to find housing on your own, be careful, do your homework, and read reviews.

If you're on a flat hunt, you might enjoy reading this article about finding the perfect apartment while abroad.

What Kind of Insurance Do I Need?

It’s incredibly important to have a way to address unforeseen events. To plan for these circumstances, you should purchase study abroad insurance that will provide you with medical and financial support in the case of unexpected illnesses, emergencies, changes, and cancellations.

Study abroad programs commonly require students to purchase international health insurance, but you may also want to be covered in case of other unforeseen events. Here are other types of insurance you may want to consider:

International health insurance: This insurance supplements or replaces the health insurance you hold in the United States.

Emergency medical expense and evacuation insurance: This insurance covers emergency care and evacuations to medical centers with better-quality or covered medical care.

Trip cancellation insurance: This insurance covers the costs of travel and program expenses when trips or program components are cancelled, changed, or delayed through no fault of your own.

Travel assistance insurance: This insurance provides you with economic and logistical support in various emergency and non-emergency situations abroad.

Academic program insurance: This insurance reimburses the costs of tuition if you are involuntarily withdrawn from your studies because of circumstances out of your control. This type of insurance is also known as tuition insurance.

You can typically purchase these types of insurance individually or as parts an all-inclusive package. While insurance plans can be expensive, they are inexpensive compared to the costs of emergencies, unexpected changes, and cancellations.

You can check whether your school offers study abroad insurance. If it does not, there are insurance agents and brokers who can help you find the right combinations for you.

In an effort to obviate medical emergencies during your trip, you should visit your primary care physician for a physical before you leave. You should also make visits to your dentist as well as other specialists (e.g., gynecologist and ophthalmologist). While visits to your doctors can’t necessarily prevent illnesses and medical emergencies abroad, they can at least allow you to detect any existing health problems.

Doctors may also administer vaccinations and provide medication refills. Your prescriptions are likely not to be honored overseas, and certain medications may not even be available in some countries, so think ahead — and be sure you bring a sufficient quantity of any necessary medications to last the duration of your trip.

If you are interested in learning more about health and safety abroad, read this article from Students Abroad.

How Can I Get a Cell Phone?

Your cell phone package likely includes three components: voice, data, and text, and each has very different rate plans if you travel. The rates change because American cell phone companies don’t operate overseas, and so they (and you must) rely on their partners who provide service at your destination.

You may bounce from one partner to another if you are traveling, all with the potential of racking up charges. What's worse, smartphones often use large quantities of data — even when you're not even actively using them (for roaming services and maps, among other things). When you’re abroad, these functions can be very expensive.

Before you finalize your travel plans, you should call your current cell phone company and understand their plans and pricing. Many will have special deals that allow you to subscribe to a short-term international plan. Then, shop around; you may find it more cost effective to buy a new SIM card (phone ID) and to get a new prepaid account, either before you go or at the start of your trip.

A prepaid SIM card for each country you visit will enable you to have a local phone number and benefit from local calling rates. It will be convenient and relatively inexpensive for you to call other people in the country you're visiting, and likewise easy for them to call to you on your local number.

Best of all, incoming calls are free, regardless of where they originate.

Study abroad preparations may be time-consuming, but spending the energy before you start your trip will better allow you to enjoy your experience abroad. Good luck and bon voyage!