International Travel Guide for Studies Abroad
Studying abroad can be one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences for students. Although going abroad might be something outside of the comfort zone for some students, history shows that it has been rather a fruitful experience for professional advancement, cultural exchange, and building bridges.
Keep reading to get insights into what studying abroad consists of, resources to look into before travelling, services offered online, and possible issues that might arise during your journey.
Study Abroad Checklist
- Prepare all the necessary documents.
- Valid passport.
- Visas (if applicable).
- Residence permits (when applicable).
- Travel insurance policy.
- Complete medical check-ups.
- General check-ups.
- Check the country’s travel warnings/custom regulations.
- Restricted items.
- Safety measures.
- Create an emergency plan.
- Enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program).
- Remember the emergency contacts.
- Purchase your international flight.
- Plan your transport to and from the airport.
- Manage your finances efficiently.
- Learn how to budget.
- Use student discounts.
Depending on the country you are travelling to, there may be different accommodation options for students. These accommodation options will vary in cost, amenities, location, and comfort. Generally, each has its own pros and cons.
Rent is one of the most significant expenses for students who travel abroad to study. If you’re renting privately and not living in student dorms, you will be expected to pay more for accommodation.
Here are a few common student accommodation types:
|Flatshares||Budget-friendly.Socialization.Cultural exchange.||Limited privacy.May get too crowded.Flatmate problems.|
|University Halls of Residence||Full university experience.Safety.Great location (on-campus).||No privacy.Shared spaces.Strict rules and regulations.|
|Private Halls of Residence||Central location.Household amenities.Recreation areas.||Expensive.No privacy.May be further from campus.|
|Homestays||Cultural exchange.Homely environment.May include meals.||House rules.May be further from campus.Less interaction with friends.|
|Privately Rented Apartment||Plenty of privacy.You make your own rules.Private household amenities.||Expensive.May not be the safest.Less interaction with friends.|
Do some research on modes of transport before heading to your intended destination. In most countries, it is generally simple to travel locally and nationally. Public transport is a common means of transport, especially for students, considering it is budget-friendly and mostly efficient. For example, in countries like Germany, students usually get a free travel card as part of their semester/administrative fee — meaning students get to use public transport for free.
Some means of transport you will likely be able to find in most countries include:
Remember that many countries have an excellent biking culture. For example, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, etc., all include biking as an integral part of transportation. If you do not have your own bike, you can always rent one.
Note: Many countries provide student discounts for public transport, either national or local. Make sure you carry your student ID with you so you can provide proof you’re a student.
Finances are an important part of the study abroad experience. In fact, they are one of the most essential aspects of studying abroad. It is important to plan ahead — whether you wish to fund your studies through scholarships, grants, or part-time work and savings — planning will help you be prepared, manage your finances, and enjoy a stress-free experience.
The US also provides students with federal financial aid for studies abroad. The US government provides numerous exchange programs that offer need-based and merit-based financial aid to study or intern abroad. These programs have specific requirements, which students must meet to be eligible for financial aid.
Some of these programs include:
- Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.
- Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program.
- The Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX).
- Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
- Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program.
- The Boren Award for International Study.
- The Language Flagship.
- Project GO.
- Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) Fellowship Program.
- Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships.
For students traveling abroad to engage in academic and/or professional activity, managing finances efficiently is of utmost importance. Luckily, students can use discount opportunities offered by cultural institutions, shopping centers, and even restaurants. Studying abroad is as much about the cultural experience as it is about the educational experience. You will want to study, make new friends, travel around, buy souvenirs, and simply learn new things.
Here’s what is truly essential when it comes to budgeting as an international student:
- Establish your income. Establishing the amount you receive on a weekly/monthly basis will allow you to better plan and organize your finances. So, this is where you start.
- Categorize your expenses. Once you figure out where your money tends to go, you will see that many of your expenses can be divided into essential and non-essential. Note down the essentials when organizing your finances. If there is extra money once you calculate what is necessary, you can add other expenses.
- Create a monthly plan. Write down a monthly budget, either using your laptop, notes app on your phone, or any other budgeting app you can download. Once you have everything laid down before you, it is easier to abide by your own rules.
- Use student discounts. Student discounts are one of the greatest inventions ever made. Depending on where you are traveling to, you will be able to find student discounts in museums, theatres, libraries, shopping centers, or restaurants, to mention just a few. You would be surprised to see how much money you can save through student discounts.
- Get health insurance. Health insurance will help you in case of medical emergencies and large medical bills. It is always better to be safe, prepared and insured.
- Book travel tickets early. The early-bird discounts may be able to help you if you wish to travel around during your free time. This is where planning ahead comes in handy. Note down your free days, plan your schedule, and book your tickets at a reasonable price.
- Save for emergencies. If you find that you have more than enough money to spare by the end of the month, make sure you set aside an emergency fund. Who knows when you might need it.
Before you leave, you must research precautions and safety measures you can undertake to be safe and enjoy an excellent study abroad experience.
Here’s what you need to research before you decide to travel overseas:
- Research the safety of your university. Some universities may have statistics regarding the safety levels in their institutions. If not, check any ratings or reviews. An additional source of information would be to ask students who have graduated from that institution regarding any query you may have.
- Research the safety of the surrounding area. Make sure that the area where the university is located is safe. Ask the university whether they have any on-campus designated safe spots in case of an emergency. Check what kind of security the area has and whether or not it feels safe.
- Research the safety of the country. Each year, the Global Peace Index releases new information regarding peace levels in different countries of the world. Start there and see where your intended destination ranks. Afterward, proceed with your research by taking a look at official statistics and other helpful information.
- Research the latest data on COVID-19 vaccinations. Check to see whether the population of your intended destination has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Here’s what you need to have if you’re traveling overseas:
- Health insurance. If your current health insurance does not have overseas coverage, make sure you purchase supplemental insurance before traveling overseas.
- Emergency numbers. Learn the emergency numbers of the region you are traveling to. You never know when you might need to use them.
- Important addresses. Once you arrive, check to see where the hospital, police station, and US embassy/consulate are located.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind at all times:
- Stay vigilant. Do not walk alone at night in dark and isolated areas. Walk with a friend, take a taxi home, or use public transportation.
- Keep your belongings close. Always keep your belongings close. Pickpockets are common in many countries, especially in places where there tend to be crowds of people.
- Keep in contact with people you trust. Tell a trusted friend where you are or where you are going. Keep your phone fully charged and ensure you can contact someone if any problem should arise.
Be careful of scams. Scams are everywhere, but it is important to be careful, especially when signing a rental contract or paying rent. Do not pay anything before any agreement has been made. Read the fine lines before any contract is signed. Do not give anyone your credit or debit card. Simply stay attentive.
The US Department of State provides thorough information when it comes to country-specific details. Before you start your travel, gather as much information you can regarding travel warnings, safety measures, and other precautions.
You can find COVID-19 country-specific information here.
- South & Central Asia. The largest number of US students in South & Central Asia is in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
- Europe & Eurasia. Countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and France have always attracted the highest number of US students. Rising numbers have also been seen in countries like Denmark and Georgia.
- Near East. Countries like Bahrain, Israel, Morocco, and Algeria receive the highest number of US students in this region.
- Africa (Sub-Sahara). US students have primarily chosen the regions of Southern Africa and East Africa. West Africa and Central Africa also received a significant number of US students.
- Western Hemisphere. The Caribbean region received the most US students in countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Central America receives most US students in countries like Costa Rica and Panama; meanwhile, South America has an increased number of US students in countries like Brazil and Peru.
East Asia & The Pacific. The region of East Asia received the most American students in countries like China, Japan, and South Korea. On the other hand, in Southeast Asia, the countries with the most American students include Thailand and Singapore.
If you need any kind of passport service or information, you will be able to access many of the services online on the Travel State Government website.
Here are the passport services you can access from the comfort of your home:
- Find passport forms.
- Find the form you need.
- Download and fill out the form.
- Locate passport facilities.
- Check passport application status.
- Report lost/stolen passports.
- Rush passport processing.
I Need a Passport
If you are still within the US and you need to apply for a passport, you will have to apply in person at a passport acceptance facility. The form you use will depend on specific circumstances. For example:
You will need to fill out a Form DS-11 if:
- You are applying for your first US passport.
- Your previous US passport was issued when you were under 16 years old.
- Your previous US passport was lost, stolen, or otherwise damaged.
- Your previous US passport was issued more than 15 years ago.
You will need to fill out a Form DS-82 if:
- If neither of the above statements applies to you.
Here’s what you will need to apply for a US passport:
- Fill out the necessary form.
- Provide evidence of US citizenship.
- Provide a photocopy of US citizenship evidence.
- Show your identification documents (ID).
- Submit photocopies of each ID you provide.
- Provide a photo of yourself.
- Pay an application fee and an execution (acceptance) fee.
- Submit your application at a passport acceptance facility.
My Passport Was Lost/Stolen
If your passport was lost or stolen while you were in the US or after you went abroad, the first thing you should do is report it. Depending on where you currently are (within the US or abroad), you can report your passport lost/stolen in a few different ways. See below.
Was your passport stolen/lost while you were still in the US?
If your passport was stolen/lost while you were still in the US, here’s how you can report it.
- Report it online. You will have to use this tool.
- Report it by mail. You will have to complete, sign, and mail a Form DS-64.
- Report it by phone. By dialing 1-877-487-2778 (TTY 1-888-874-7793).
Note: To replace your stolen/lost passport, you will have to fill out and submit Form DS-11 in person.
Was your passport stolen/lost after you went abroad?
If your passport was stolen/lost after you went abroad, you must contact the nearest US embassy or consulate to replace it. You must have your passport replaced before heading back to the United States.
The embassy/consulate will ask you to submit the following documents:
- Passport photo.
- Identification documents (ID).
- Evidence of US citizenship.
- Police report (if applicable).
- Travel itinerary.
- Form DS-11 Application for Passport.
- Form DS-64 Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport.
Keep in mind: You may complete Form DS-11 and Form DS-64 at the time of application.
My Passport Needs Renewal
You can renew your passport by mail only if you meet all of the following five requirements.
- You still have your passport.
- The passport is undamaged (apart from the damage that accumulates with time).
- Your passport was issued when you were 16 (or older).
- Your passport was issued within the last 15 years.
- Your passport has your current name on it. If not, make sure you can prove the name change.
Here are the steps you need to take to renew your passport by mail:
- Fill out Form DS-82.
- Provide your most recent passport.
- Provide name change documents.
- Provide photo.
- Pay the application and/or expedited service fee.
- Mail the application.
Keep in mind:
- If you are currently outside of the United States and need to renew your US passport, you should visit the nearest US embassy or consulate.
- If you’re a US citizen currently in Canada, you should submit your Form DS-82 to one of the addresses on the form.
What Form Should I Use?
The form you use depends on the passport service you need as well as where you currently reside. For more information and form access, you must visit the US Department of State website. In order to see which passport form to use, you will have to provide your location, date of birth, and other passport information. After providing this information, the site will redirect you to the form you need to use to apply for a passport.
Can I Rush Passport Processing?
Whether or not you can rush passport processing depends on the service you need and the reason for your international travel.
Generally, there are two main processing times:
- Routine processing. Up to 14 weeks from the day of the application.
- Expedited processing. Up to 10 weeks from the day of the application. You must pay an extra $60.
- Expedited at Agency. Must have international travel within 72 hours (3 business days).
If you need your passport for less than ten days, you must have a strong reason and prove it. Two possible services you can choose for such cases include:
- Life-or-Death Emergency Service. You must show proof of a qualified life-or-death emergency.
- Urgent Travel Service. Limited appointments for people who need to urgently travel internationally for reasons other than life-or-death emergencies.
Remember: These types of appointments are made at a Passport Agency or Center.
How Much Does It Cost?
The passport fees you pay depend on the processing method. Here’s an overview:
- Application fees. Anywhere from $30 to $140 (paid to the US Department of State).
- Execution fees. Around $35 (paid to the agency).
- Optional fees:
- Expedite fee. Generally $60.
- 1-2 day delivery. Generally $17.56.
- File search fee. Generally $150.
Returning Home on an Expired US Passport
Generally, you would need to renew your passport at a US embassy or consulate abroad before returning to the United States.
Currently, however, US citizens — whose passports have expired on or after January 1, 2020 — can use their passport to travel back to the US through December 31, 2021. This rule applies for as long as they are abroad seeking a direct return to the United States.
If you want to return to the US on an expired US passport, the rule mentioned above applies as long as you have your physical passport — undamaged — that was originally valid for ten years.
Statement: This section is constantly on the update regarding any changes to rules/policies.
As a student who wishes to travel abroad for academic purposes, you can find various helpful resources online — courtesy of the advancement of technology.
Online services you might find helpful before/after traveling abroad include:
- Passport services. As mentioned in the above sections.
- Booking. You can book accommodation online, anywhere you go, through online booking applications. Make sure you check the reviews, location, and payment methods before choosing your accommodation online.
- Health insurance. Many health insurance companies will allow you to purchase insurance online. Health insurance is essential when traveling abroad, especially regarding peace of mind and medical emergencies.
- Travel tickets. If you want to travel around, most countries allow you to book your transportation tickets online. You will rarely have to show up at the bus station or airport to purchase a ticket.
- Dictionaries/translation apps. Language can be a barrier when traveling, and not everyone will speak English as you travel abroad. Download a dictionary/translating app on your phone and use it when you get the chance.
- University websites. Although this might be a given, make sure you check your university website for anything related to your concerns. If the information you are looking for is not on the website, there will be a phone number you can call and ask.
- Maps. Download the map of your destination and keep it on your phone at all times. You would be surprised at how much you will need it. Even if there are location signs all over the place, a map is a must-have asset.
- Shopping. Whether you are shopping for clothes, food deliveries, or groceries, you will likely find online resources available. Generally, most developed countries will allow you to receive these services online.
Not many students think about emergencies that might arise while abroad. This may be a good and a bad thing, mainly because thinking about the worst can spoil the fun of studying abroad, but it can also help you prepare for anything. So, thinking about emergencies is a must before you travel outside of the US.
Here’s what you need to know in case of an emergency while abroad:
- Contact the nearest US embassy or consulate. Depending on the nature of the emergency, the US Department of State will be able to help you with:
- Information/warnings about areas of unrest.
- How/where to seek help.
- Recommendations on immediate leave (in more severe cases).
- Transportation options to help US citizens out of the crisis location.
- Enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This one is advised by the Department of State, as it helps travelers outside of the country stay informed, connected, and safe regarding any crisis that might arise.
A few extra recommendations:
- Read and learn about the country you are traveling to. Although you are going for academic purposes, you should read anything specific to the country, even outside academia. Such can be the visa requirements, laws, culture and traditions, etc.
- Remember the emergency contact information. You must learn the emergency contact information of both the US embassy/consulate closest to you and the local authorities’ emergency contacts.
- Make sure you have health insurance. You might not even use it, but it is always better to have valid health insurance for overseas coverage. You never know when a medical emergency might arise.
Despite the universal hope for peace and safety, not all countries are safe locations for certain people. This is why it is vital to research the country you plan to visit and prepare for any inconvenience. Above all, remember to contact the US embassy or consulate nearest to you regarding any inconvenience/emergency.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you belong to the following groups of people:
- Update your passport. There have been instances where transgender travelers have had difficulty entering a certain country because their passports held a name that did not correspond to their gender identity. If such is the case with you, make sure you update your passport by changing the name and/or gender marker in your passport.
- Remember travel insurance. Some travel insurance providers have insurance products tailored to LGBTI travelers. Make sure you check whether their product meets your needs.
- Check the laws of the country you’re visiting. Keep in mind that you are subject to the laws of the country you are traveling to. Some countries illegalize consensual same-sex sexual activity or distribution of pro-LGBTI material.
- Be careful when making new friends. Some criminals might mask as friends to intimidate LGBT foreigners. Be wary.
Although traveling as a woman is generally safe, there are still incidents that tend to happen. Here’s what you should keep in mind as a women traveler:
- Pack after research. Remember first to research the local laws and customs of the country you plan to visit. When it comes to women’s clothing and appearance, not all countries abide by the same customs as the United States.
- Be cautious. You should avoid dark and isolated areas, especially during the night, and opt for busier streets. If any stranger approaches you asking about your plans/schedule, do not feel obliged to share. Maintain a close, trustworthy circle.
- Locate the nearest police station. As soon as you arrive, locate the nearest police station. While this is advice for women travelers, it applies to everyone. You can report any type of harassment or suspicious activity.
Travelers with Disabilities
Travelers with disabilities going abroad for academic purposes must ensure that they are duly informed of the country’s laws regarding accessibility and discrimination against people with disabilities (physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental).
Here are a few things to remember:
- Check with the university. Talk to the university’s student office and ask whether the university is aware of the needs of students with a disability and what resources and support the university will be able to provide.
- Consult your travel agent. Depending on the means of transport, you must ask the transportation company about the availability of services during your trip. See whether the airline provides special policies regarding assistive equipment.
- Consult your medical practitioner. Before you travel, consult your physician regarding any health care needs you might have.
- Check your health insurance plan. If your health insurance plan does not provide coverage outside the United States, you may purchase supplemental medical insurance.
Some countries have specific laws and regulations that restrict religious expression. For example, some countries may prohibit wearing religious attire, preaching in private or public locations, distributing religious literature, etc. This is why you must make sure you check the laws of the country you will be traveling to be prepared.
It is always advisable to contact the nearest US embassy or consulate if you experience any problems while abroad.
Volunteering abroad will be the experience of a lifetime, especially if you consider all factors, do your research correctly, and make sure you are putting yourself in a safe environment.
Make sure your volunteer experience is a SUCCESS by considering the following:
- Safety. Make sure you will be safe by researching the organization’s history and experience with volunteers.
- Up to date. You must check your documents, such as your US passport and visa (if needed), to see if they are up to date before you travel.
- Check health conditions. Check to see if you should know anything about the country’s health and disease conditions before you leave.
- Credible ratings. The organization’s volunteer ratings should be up to date and credible.
- Emergencies. The international volunteer organization must have 24/7 office support in case of emergency and an emergency evacuation plan, among other things.
- Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You are advised to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to ensure the US embassy in the country you’re volunteering can help you, should problems arise.
- Support. Before you go, ensure your organization has 24-hour local office support.
Depending on the country you plan to study abroad in, you should be aware that some countries do not allow travelers to bring specific items, such as food or medicine, into the country. The same is also true when it comes to pets, which is why you must check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit and inquire about the rules and regulations regarding such items.
Other items that might be prohibited to bring along (depending on the country you are traveling to) include — but are not limited to — the following:
- Gold/other precious metals.
- Precious/semi-precious stones.
- Religious artifacts and/or literature.
- Antiques, etc.
Note: The United States also has restrictions on what you are allowed to bring back once you return. Such items may include — but are not limited to — numerous wildlife and wildlife products. You will risk confiscation and a fine if you attempt to bring such products into the country.
If you have a driver’s license, it is normal to want to bring your car with you overseas. But what are the rules of driving abroad with a US license? Well, first, many countries may not recognize a US driver’s license. If such is the case with the country you wish to study in, you will be glad to know that many countries accept an International Driving Permit (IDP). You will be able to obtain such a permit through the AAA (American Automobile Association) and the AATA (American Automobile Touring Alliance).
If you wish to drive while you are studying abroad, remember the following:
- Driving laws differ. Driving laws may differ in other countries, so you must check your destination’s laws before driving there.
- Some countries drive on the left side of the road. A few countries in Europe and various Commonwealth nations drive on the left side of the road.
- Local driving culture is important. Check to see how the locals drive and observe their driving behavior. This way, you will know what to be wary of.
- Check if there are hazardous routes. Do your research and figure out which routes to avoid and where to be careful. You may even talk to the locals for insider information.
- Remember the local emergency numbers. This one speaks for itself.
- Check to see which documents you must carry. Such as special road permits, insurance, driver’s license, etc.
- US auto insurance policies may not have overseas coverage. If such is the case with your provider, make sure you buy additional insurance.
Here are a few facts about studying abroad and what it means for your personal growth:
- Apart from the US, the most popular study abroad destinations are the UK, China, Canada, Australia, France, and Germany, to name a few.
- There is a 10/10 chance that you will make new friends while studying abroad.
- Studying abroad allows students to build their confidence and get more independent.
- While studying abroad, students get thorough insights not only about academic matters but also other cultures, traditions, and customs.
- Studying in a country where the first language is not English will help you improve your bilingual or multilingual skills.
- You may improve your soft skills, like communication, collaboration, personal habits, emotional empathy, time management, etc. These are desirable skills in every profession.
- Employers tend to value international experience.
- The global number of students who study abroad is continually on the rise.