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PART III: Orientations and Arrangements

Topics Covered In Part III

  • Pre-Departure Orientation
  • Making Travel & Housing Arrangements
  • Preparation for Handling Business at Home While Overseas
  • Planning for Overseas Health
  • Pre-Arrangements for Return to Home and to Campus

Once you have been accepted into a study abroad program, you must next pay serious attention to the details of preparing to go abroad. Just as you did when you chose what to study and where, give yourself plenty of time to make all of the many necessary pre-departure arrangements.

The better prepared you are for your study abroad experience – the more you know about what to expect and what is expected of you – the more meaningful your experience will be. It should go without saying that you should try to learn as much as you can about your host country – its language, history and culture as well as its current social and political conditions. There are many ways to do this: take courses, read books and magazine articles, surf the web, talk with people from there and who’ve been there, etc. As Socrates said, “The innocent eye sees nothing.”

This section will advise you on a host of essential matters which must be taken care of before you leave. Note: Some of the following information might also be provided by your campus, or the host program, or overseas institution.

Choosing a study abroad program that is the “right fit” for you is the best way to achieve your personal and academic goals for study abroad, as well as assist you with your long-range career plans. Therefore, it is important to plan carefully. However, when selecting the program, you are likely to get the most from involved careful planning. Hundreds of opportunities exist, more than ever before. They differ in location, duration, curriculum, degrees of cultural immersion, language, cost, and many, many other ways. Because there is so much to consider, it’s smart to begin planning a full year before you want to depart. In some cases colleges and universities expect you to declare your intent to study abroad a full year in advance.

Start by realistically assessing your academic and personal preparation and objectives:

  • What do you want or need to study?
  • Do you need to earn credit while abroad, or would a work abroad program not for credit be possible?
  • Are you fluent enough in a foreign language to take classes in it, or will it be necessary for you to take some or all of your coursework in English?
  • How much time can you afford to spend abroad, in terms of academic time and economic resources?
  • Where do you want to go? Why?
  • How structured or open of a program are you looking for?
  • Do you want to live in a dorm with other Americans, stay with a local family, or have some other housing option?
  • How much money can you spend on tuition and fees? On housing and food? On international transportation?
  • Will you need to apply for financial aid? Is it available?

This section provides information that will help you answer these questions.

Getting the most from any study abroad program requires open-mindedness, flexibility, dedication, independence, and above all, a spirit of adventure. Some programs, however, require more of these characteristics than others. Also keep in mind your adventure quotient when considering programs. Challenge yourself, but be realistic.

Pre-Departure Orientation
If your home school is the program sponsor, you will probably have a pre-departure orientation on campus. If not, then you should at least receive orientation information through the mail, on the phone or via the internet.

Orientations and orientation materials usually cover the following topics:

  • Travel documents (passport, visa, etc.)
  • Travel arrangements (international transportation, etc.)
  • Housing information (living arrangements, roommates, etc.)
  • Health and safety issues (what to do, what not to do)
  • Financial matters (payments schedules, financial aid, etc.)
  • Communication with family and friends (how to establish, etc.)
  • Host culture information (history, customs, laws, politics, etc.)
  • Knowledge of home culture (what others will see in your ‘Americanness’)

The summary below may or may not repeat what you otherwise will be told:

Travel Documents. When traveling outside the United States, you need to carry a passport, the only form of identification recognized everywhere which verifies your citizenship. Depending on the length of stay, there are a few areas of the world such as Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean countries that allow US citizens entry without a passport. However, a valid passport is always the best form of identification. Some countries will also require an additional entry document called a visa. Passports are issued by your country of citizenship, while visas – usually a stamp on a page of the passport, though they can be a separate certificate – are issued by the country to be visited.

Passport. Apply early for a passport. The normal processing time is four to six weeks – even longer during the peak travel season (March to August). If you have never had a passport, you may apply to a passport agent at a US Department of State agency. You can also make application through selected post offices or clerks of any federal, state or county courthouse. If you have a passport already but it will expire during the time you are abroad, apply for a new one before you leave. You must apply in person unless you are renewing a passport obtained after you were eighteen.

Here is a list of what you must present along with your application form:

  • Proof of US citizenship (an official birth certificate, a naturalization certificate, or a previous US passport)
  • Two recent identical color photographs (2″x2″) with a white background
  • Form of current identification with your signature and photograph (i.e., a driver’s license)
  • $85.00 fee if you are sixteen years or older, $70.00 if you are younger, $55.00 for renewals

Make several photocopies of your passport. Leave a copy at home with your family and carry a copy with you at all times when you are overseas. Be sure to keep an additional copy with your belongings. If you should lose your passport, the copies may speed up the process of replacing it. If this happens, immediately notify the nearest US embassy or consulate.

You can get more information about passports on line at: or by calling National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.

Visa. Some countries require that US citizens have a visa, depending on the length and purpose of their stay. A visa is an official document giving permission to enter a country and is granted by the government of the country you wish to enter. It may be in the form of a stamp imprinted on a page in your passport or it might be an official document which includes a photograph.

Visa requirements vary from country to country. Information relating to all visas may be obtained from the nearest embassy or consulate of the country or countries in which you will study and/or travel. An on-line source is If you are planning to study in a country for an extended period of time, you may need a student visa or residency permit. In most cases, you will need to get the visa before leaving the United States. Check with your program sponsor to see what the requirements are. They may need to provide special letters or documents that must accompany your visa application. Note: You may also need passport-size photos. It’s a good idea to have extra copies of these photos for this purpose and other situations.

International Student Identity Card (ISIC). Next to your passport and visa, if needed, the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can be among the most valuable travel documents for you to have. It verifies your student status and it is widely recognized throughout the world. With the card, you are eligible to qualify for discounts ranging from lower airfares, cheaper insurance coverage to reduced or free admission to museums, theaters, concerts and cultural sites around the world.

The ISIC also provides supplemental health insurance coverage. This plan covers emergency medical evacuation in case your illness or injury cannot be treated overseas and repatriation of remains in case of death. Most private health care plans do not incorporate this kind of coverage. This is why many program sponsors are either providing a special overseas insurance plan or requiring the card.

Not only do you receive the medical coverage and discounts while overseas, but you also have access to a toll-free help line for assistance with medical, legal, or financial emergencies. In addition, you can use the card in the United States for special student discounts on airlines, lodging, international phone calls and international money transfers. The card comes with a detailed hand book that provides information on all its uses.

The card is issued by STA Travel. It is available at all STA Travel Offices and is also sold at many US colleges and universities. Check with your study abroad office to see if it is sold there. You can also order it from:
STA Travel
Phone within the US: 1-800-781-4040
Outside the US: +1-480-592-0870

Or check the STA Travel website for offices throughout the US and worldwide.

Making Travel and Housing Arrangements
Many study abroad programs take care of participants’ international travel and housing arrangements. If this is not the case with your program, then it will be your responsibility to arrange for travel to your program site and/or find your own accommodations. You may also want to consider making plans for your own transportation and housing if you decide to do additional traveling at the end of your program.

Housing. If housing is not provided for you by your study abroad program, give yourself plenty of time to arrange for it. Since student housing is at a premium in most countries, ask for housing recommendations from a representative from your program. If you are enrolling directly in a foreign university, contact the university to see if there is a student housing office which can assist you in your search for accommodation.

Air Transportation. Some program sponsors include group flights to and from the program site. Others require you to make your own arrangements. If you do need to arrange your own transportation, be sure to do so well in advance of leaving, especially if you plan to travel during the summer or any other period when air travel is heavy. Make sure you know what arrangements have been made for the arrival of students in your host country before finalizing your flight reservations. Often a designated meeting place and time are established so that program staff can greet students upon their arrival. Many countries list a round-trip ticket as one of their entry requirements.

Even though you may not know when you want to return home and you may have to pay a surcharge to change your return ticket, it is still cheaper to buy the round-trip ticket instead of buying two one-way tickets. Shop carefully to find a flight that best suits your needs. Compare the price of open-ended tickets, in which you return at any point within a specified length of time, with the price of a ticket bearing a stated return date. If you are planning to travel on your own after your program ends, you might want to investigate “open jaw” fares, which let you return from a different location from your point of arrival.

STA Travel is an excellent source of information about student travel. With your International Student Identity Card, you can sometimes get up to 50% off of commercial airfares through STA Travel. More information about STA Travel and its travel services is available on-line at:

Free travel literature is usually available from the government tourist office, consulate or embassy of the country or countries to which you travel. You can also learn more about discount airfares from the following websites: (provides links to airlines) among many, many others

If you lose your airline ticket, contact the airline, travel agency, or other agency from which you purchased the ticket. If you bought your ticket from an airline, you will have to fill out a claim for a lost ticket and buy a new ticket. You’ll be refunded the cost of the replacement ticket, minus a fee. The fee varies with each airline. It takes about six months to get your refund. If you purchased Student Tickets, issued by STA Travel and other agencies, you don’t need to buy a new ticket; you simply pay a $25 fee and your ticket will be reissued.

Don’t buy a one-way ticket, even if you don’t know when you want to return home. Most foreign countries require visitors to have a round-trip ticket before they are allowed to enter.

Rail Passes. In many countries, rail travel is probably the most widely used mode of transportation. Buying a rail pass in the United States prior to your departure can greatly reduce your costs. Rail passes, such as the Britrail Pass or Eurail Pass, can be obtained from most travel agents. These passes usually offer unlimited travel for a specific amount of time. Just as there are special airfares for students, there are also special rail passes for students. Website:

Travel by Car. If you are planning to travel by car, be aware that renting a car abroad and filling it with gasoline can be quite expensive. Just as in the United States, each country requires you to have a valid driver’s license. Some countries will recognize your current US driver’s license. Others may require you to obtain an International Driver’s Permit. Contact your local AAA (American Automobile Association) Office or AAA’s main office:
AAA National Headquarters
8111 Gatehouse Road
Falls Church, VA 22042

Remember also that other countries have different “rules of the road.” Prior to departure, you may also wish get some information on international road travel. One source is:
The Association for Safe International Road Travel
11769 Gainsborough Road
Potomac, MD 20854
Phone: 301-983-5252
Fax: 301-983-3663

Make sure that you also check to see if your US automobile insurance covers you and rental cars overseas.

Travel Light. Aim to travel light. Keep in mind that, for most international flights, you are allowed to check only two pieces of luggage. Some airlines have restrictions for the weight of each piece of luggage; check before you pack. If your program is a study-tour, you will have to carry whatever you bring, so restrict yourself to one or two moderate-sized bags and a small carry-on bag in which to keep valuables, passport, and camera equipment.

Insure your baggage and personal effects for the full period abroad. If you bring a camera, buy a lead-lined film bag. Contrary to posted airport claims, some X-ray devices ruin film.

Youth Hostels. When traveling on weekends, during school breaks or at the end of your study abroad experience, you may want to consider staying in a youth hostel. Hostels are much cheaper than hotels and can range from dormitory-style room to private rooms. They may have restrictions. For example, they may impose curfews, require you to bring your own bedding or limit your stay to a certain number of nights.

In order to stay in hostels, you may be required to have an International Youth Hostel Pass, another form to obtain before your departure. The pass and a handbook with locations and contact information are available from:

Hosteling International/American Youth Hostels
National Office 8401 Colesville Road
Suite 600
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: 301-495-1240
Fax: 301-495-6697

Many countries also have student hostels, which are restricted to use by university students. These usually offer more conveniences than youth hostels, such as food service, and are a great way to meet other international students. You may need to have a valid International Student Identity Card to prove your student status. Lastly, some independent hostels exist that are open to students as well as to other travelers.

Other Accommodations. Other options for accommodations when you travel are bed-and-breakfasts, pensions, and budget hotels. Talk to your travel advisor before departure about budget accommodations at your travel destinations. You can also browse the travel section of a local bookstore for travel guidebooks aimed at college students.

Visit Travel Websites. You can find out more about travel abroad online.

For information on cheap accommodations, visit:

For information on discounted travel by plane, train, bus, and ferry, visit: (links to airlines, trains, ferries, and buses) (European Travel Networks discounts in 185 countries)

Preparation for Handling Business at Home While Overseas
While you are overseas, you will need to take care of certain civil, financial and legal matters in the United States. Advance planning in these areas will make life easier.

Power of Attorney. Giving a family member or trusted friend power of attorney, while you are abroad, is a good idea. Power of attorney gives that designated person the power to act on your behalf in case a legal document requires your signature while you are away. This is especially important if you receive financial aid. Checks that you receive to cover educational costs must be endorsed by you before they can be deposited. It may also be helpful when completing and signing other financial aid forms, such as your FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid), that must be taken care of while you are gone. Check with the student legal services office on your campus to obtain this document. You can also give someone power of attorney by simply writing what duties that person will be allowed to perform on your behalf and having the paper notarized.

Absentee Voting. If elections are going to take place in the United States while you are overseas, you can still take part in the election process by completing an absentee ballot. You must, however, register to vote before you leave home. Contact local election officials to obtain information on absentee voting, including whether you need to have your ballot notarized at a US embassy or consulate.

Filing Income Tax. If you currently pay income tax and will be out of the United States during spring semester, you can request an extension of the deadline for filing federal, state and local tax returns. If you choose to file from abroad, then you can request your family or friends to send you the necessary paperwork. You can also find out if the closest American embassy or consulate has forms. The embassy and consulate staff may also be able to find someone to help you complete the forms.

US Customs and Duties. If you plan on taking expensive items, such as cameras, Walkmans, CD players, personal computers, etc., you should consider registering them with US Customs before you leave. That way those items won’t be subject to duty when you return. Save receipts for major purchases made overseas, as you may be able to get reimbursed for the taxes (VAT) paid. You are allowed to bring up to $400.00 of gifts and souvenirs duty free. Above that amount, you will be charged an import duty equivalent to ten percent of the value of the items. A good publication to get before you leave is Know Before You Go which can be obtained from the US Customs Service (see Part V).

Pre-Arranging Money Matters. The major costs of your study abroad program (tuition and fees, housing, sometimes food and occasionally international airfare) are usually billed and paid prior to departure to the sponsoring institution. Be sure you know exactly what is covered and what is not covered in those costs so that you are prepared to cover all other expenses. It is a good idea to make a weekly budget and then live by it so you don’t run out of money and have no quick way to replace it.

Currency Exchange. Traveling with large amounts of cash is not recommended. You should consider using several different forms of payment for your expenses. Traveler’s checks, credit cards, ATM cards and cash can all be used effectively depending on the country.

You can obtain traveler’s checks in US dollars and some foreign currencies at most banks and travel agencies. Some of the companies that offer traveler’s checks are American Express, Citicorp, Thomas Cook, etc. It is best to get the checks in $100.00, $50.00, and $20.00 denominations. That way you can regulate the amount of money you want rather than changing huge denomination checks. Traveler’s checks can be replaced if lost so it is important to keep the serial number list separate from the actual checks.

It is always good to have some local currency when you arrive on site. Exchange some US dollars upon arrival at the international arrival airport where the exchange rates and fees are better than at the departing US airport. Later on in your experience, it is recommended that you exchange your money at the major national banks throughout the world. Railroad stations in Europe are also recommended spots. The banks and their ATM machines usually offer the fairest exchange rate but you will pay a commission fee each time.

Credit and Bank Cards. Credit cards can be used to get foreign currency at a good rate of exchange and are invaluable if an emergency arises. They are widely accepted in most places in most countries, although some countries will only allow cash for financial transactions. The three main cards are American Express, Visa and MasterCard, althoughAmerican Express is less common in most student settings. A debit/check card is also recommended. Check before you leave to be sure that your PIN can be used overseas. If not, then you will need to get a new one.

Setting up Communications with Family and Friends. You and your family and friends need to decide what the best means of communication will be – mail, telephone, or e-mail. Each has its own merits as well as some disadvantages.

Mail. Sending letters back and forth can take a long time, usually more than a week for an airmail letter to leave the States, arrive at the host country and then to reach you at the local site. International postage is more expensive than domestic postage; but if you keep it to letters or postcards, it won’t cost too much. Mailing packages by surface mail is less expensive than by air mail, but allow a lot of time. Don’t forget your address book! Your family and friends will love getting postcards from you. And you will be delighted to go to your mailbox to find a letter or package from home. Finally, your letters home make a wonderful collection of memories for you when you return.

Make a photocopy of your address book and keep it separate from the original. That way if you lose your address book, you’ll still be able to keep in touch with people.

Telephone and Fax. There’s nothing quite like calling home to talk with your family and friends or receiving a phone call from them. However, it can be quite expensive for both sides. You can now dial an international call directly from the United States for less than an operator-assisted call. Check out the special deals always being offered by the long-distance carriers. Dialing direct from overseas to your home is also possible, especially with a phone card. Again, check the US long-distance carriers about getting a phone card before you leave. When calling, don’t forget the time difference! A time that might be convenient for you may not be convenient for your family and friends.

AT&T Direct Service, Sprint, and MCI, as well as many other telephone companies, offer easy and sometimes inexpensive ways to call home. Check with your service for a list of access numbers for nearly every country. All you have to do is call the access number for the country you are calling from, then dial the phone number you’re calling and your calling card number. Typically there will be an English-speaking operator, so you don’t need to worry if your command of the local language is still rudimentary.

Remember to remind the people at home that you may not have a phone immediately available. As a result you may not be able to phone them as soon as you arrive. Agree on a time by which you definitely will have called home.

Phone Tips. If you need to make more than one call, don’t hang up after each one. Press # and you can avoid separate access charges for each call. If you press a wrong number, don’t hang up, press the * key – this will allow you to start over.

Remember the time difference between your country and the part of the United States you want to call. As in the United States, shield the phone keypad when entering your calling card number so no one can see it and use it. In countries where touch-tone service is not available, your long distance company may have voice-activated service and dialing.

Faxing mail and other documents home is a good alternative, as long as there is easy access to a fax machine at each end. Faxing is cheaper than long distance phone charges, but far more expensive than e-mail. Faxing gets around time zone disparities, meaning that what is sent can be read at the other end whenever it is convenient, which may not be when it arrives.

E-mail. E-mail has become the main mode of communication, both domestically and internationally. It eliminates the time difference inconvenience and it is much less expensive than phoning. However, it only works if the US-based family and friends and the student overseas have similar access to the internet. E-mail is great to have as it saves time when dealing with practical matters such as getting new course approvals for a switched class or for relaying campus information to students. It also means immediate contact when an emergency arises. However, you must avoid the temptation to sit at your computer all day instead of exploring daily life in your host country. Set a limit for yourself and stick to it. Don’t let your real experience become a virtual study abroad.

Planning for Overseas Health
Your health and safety during your study abroad experience will depend on the choices you make and precautions that you take prior, during, and following your time overseas. However, there are no guarantees or absolutes with regard to health and safety in any setting, especially an international one. Before your departure, make sure that you are in good health, get any immunizations that are required and learn as much as you can about the health and safety conditions in your host country. Many study abroad program sponsors will require you to submit medical forms about your physical and mental health. You will also be asked to show proof of health and accident insurance or you may be asked to purchase a special policy that covers these areas overseas. More discussion of these topics should be a part of your on-site orientation.

Regular Checkups. Be sure to have a physical and dental checkup before you go, especially if you will be gone at a time when you would normally schedule these appointments and/or you will be studying in a developing country. This will give you an opportunity to talk with your health care professionals about any general health precautions you should take.

Pre-existing Conditions. If you have an ongoing medical problem, such as allergies or diabetes, you need to take special precautions in preparing for and managing your condition overseas. How will the stresses of the environment and the study abroad experience impact your health? If you have a disability, how will your needs be met?

Prescriptions. If you take prescription medications regularly, bring a supply to last throughout your time abroad, if practical. Foreign drugs are not necessarily closely related to those standard in the United States, even if they have the same chemical formula. They may be marketed under different names and may not be available in the strengths you desire. It might be wise to also have a letter from your home physician or pharmacist describing your medicines, their dosage, a generic name for them and describing the condition being treated. This letter could be helpful in an emergency.

Make sure all drugs are in the original pharmacy containers and are clearly labeled. You should carry copies of the prescriptions to avoid problems with Customs. In the case of narcotic medicines, it may not be prudent to carry additional supplies because of possible Customs difficulties. In that case, bring a prescription with the drug’s generic name.

If you are diabetic or have another medical condition in which a syringe is needed to administer medication, bring a supply of disposable syringes. These are not available in all countries, and are essential to protect yourself against HIV, hepatitis, and other communicable illnesses. Even if you don’t routinely inject medication, it’s a good idea to bring a few disposable syringes if you will be studying in a country where they are not available, in the event that you need an injection. Some countries, however, restrict the import of syringes – as well as certain medications and contraceptives. Before departure, find out if this applies to your host country.

For certain conditions such as diabetes, asthma, mild epilepsy, or allergy to penicillin, it would be wise to wear a tag or a bracelet or carry a card to identify the condition so that you can be treated properly. Take an extra pair of eyeglasses and/or contact lenses if you wear them. Bring along extra contact lens solution, too.

For the flight to your program site, put any prescription medication, eyeglasses, and contact lenses in your carry-on bag. Don’t take the risk of these items being misrouted or lost with your checked luggage.

World and Regional Health Conditions. Some health problems, such as diarrhea, are worldwide, whereas, some diseases like malaria are found only in certain regions. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the US Department of State’s Overseas Citizens Emergency Center can give you detailed information about particular regions you plan to visit on study abroad:
Centers for Disease Control
Phone: 1-877-394-8747

Overseas Citizens Emergency Center
Phone: 202-647-5225

Additional information about health issues abroad is available from:
American College Health Association
PO Box 28937
Baltimore, MD 21240-8937
Phone: 410-859-1500
Fax: 410-859-1510

Many travelers experience some form of diarrhea while adjusting to local food and water. In many cases, it is mild but ask your doctor to recommend an anti-diarrhea medication so you can take it with you. If you are going to a country in a tropical region where there may be bacterial, fungal and parasitic diseases, be sure you get some anti-malarial medication. Your doctor may recommend that you start taking it before you leave the United States. One can also contract hepatitis or cholera in countries where the drinking water is untreated. Students must take preventative measures and receive treatment if necessary.

Sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and herpes, pose health risks in any country. The HIV virus, from which AIDS is contracted, can be transmitted sexually but also through contaminated hypodermic needles and blood supplies. If you are going to a country where AIDS is prevalent, find out what you should do in an emergency if you require an injection or a blood transfusion.

Immunizations. While some countries require immunizations for a visa or entry, others do not. These requirements can change according to the health conditions of a particular country. Therefore, it is important to check on a regular basis to see if your host country has requirements. Check also to see if your country requires an AIDS test for entry or the residency permit. Even if immunizations are not required, you still may want to get them. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor, local travel clinic or county health department. If you will travel to other countries, don’t forget to check their immunization requirements, as well.

You may be required to present an official record of immunizations. An “International Certificate of Vaccinations” is the most common form used. It is issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services and is approved by the World Health Organization. You can get the form from your local Department of Health, travel clinic, passport offices and from many physicians and travel agencies. It must be filled out and dated by the person who provides the immunization. Your campus health service may be able to provide the form and the necessary immunizations.

It may be also wise for you to have your basic childhood immunizations (tetanus, polio, diphtheria, etc.) updated. If you will be traveling to a developing country, then typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, cholera and yellow fever are frequently recommended immunizations. Don’t forget anti-malarial medicine if traveling to malarial areas.

Substance Abuse. Substance abuse is viewed differently around the world. Sometimes students who are away from their home campuses and the US laws regarding the use of alcohol, fall into patterns of alcohol abuse. They may misinterpret how alcohol is used in their new culture. It may be less expensive to buy; there may be a lower drinking age or maybe the laws against drunkenness are less stringent. Your program sponsors will most likely discuss this topic during your orientation to explain the program’s regulations concerning alcohol consumption as well as the consequences for abuse. If you currently attend a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, check on meeting availability and schedules in your host country. (For Alcoholics Anonymous contact Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Phone: 212-870-3400, Web:

Drug abuse can lead to immeasurable health risks as well as serious cultural and legal consequences. Risks are magnified tenfold by impure drugs, shady and often criminal contacts, and rigid legal systems that impose severe penalties. The US government has no jurisdiction and very little influence over the judicial systems in other countries.

An excellent resource on detailed health information entitled “Health Information for International Travel” is available for a fee from:
Public Health Foundation
Publication Sales
P.O. Box 753
Waldorf, MD 20604
Phone: 877-252-1200
Centers for Disease Control Phone: 1-877-394-8747 Website:

Emotional and Mental Health. Emotionally and mentally, international living can be stressful. Most travelers will experience a degree of culture shock during the normal adjustment period (see Part IV). Culture shock causes feelings of disorientation and unease which can be intensified for students dealing with ongoing unresolved emotional or medical issues. It is thus very important that students with such problems discuss these with their study abroad advisors, mental health providers, or other trained medical personnel before leaving. Once on site, there may be program staff available to help you through the adjustment cycle, but this is seldom guaranteed. Check with your program to see what psychological counseling is available, should you need it. Remember, study abroad is hard work and not therapy.

Nutrition. Be aware that you will probably experience a change in your diet and eating habits. You may start eating a healthier diet, as people in most countries don’t eat as much processed food nor drink as many caffeinated and sweetened beverages as Americans do. It is customary in many countries to eat more grains, fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, etc. Before you leave, try to learn more about the foods eaten and the eating habits of your host country. These are an integral part of the culture.

Health Records. It’s a good idea to bring a copy of your medical and dental records with you. If you have any ongoing medical or dental problems, bring a letter from your doctor or dentist explaining how they are being treated. Don’t forget the telephone and fax numbers of your doctor and dentist, in case you need to contact them.

Medical Kit. Be prepared for minor health problems with a home medical kit. This should include:

  • antibacterial cream
  • painkillers
  • bandages, gauze, and adhesive tape
  • sterile cleansers
  • anti-diarrhea medicine
  • insect repellent (for any warm climate)
  • sunscreen

Medical and Accident Insurance. It is extremely important for you to have adequate insurance before departing. This coverage should also include medical evacuation, repatriation of remains and life insurance. If you are currently included on your family’s insurance policy, you must make sure that the coverage meets your program’s insurance requirements and is valid overseas for the duration of the program. Students with an International Student Identity Card receive basic medical/accident insurance coverage for their travel outside the continental United States, for the period that the ISIC is valid (see Part III). But such coverage may not be adequate to meet every contingency, so you should check to see what additional protection you might need.

Medical Care Abroad. Try to get some information about the health-care system in the region to which you’re going. If you need medical care, what will the facilities be like? How do you pay for it? What legal right do you have to medical services? How are patients treated in your host country? (In some countries, doctors welcome questions from patients, while in others, patients are merely expected to follow doctors’ orders.) You can get a list of English-speaking doctors worldwide by contacting:

International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
1623 Military Rd #279
Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1745
Phone: 716-754-4883

Family Emergencies. Discuss with your family what you will do in the event of a family emergency, illness or death. It is much easier to have these conversations around the kitchen table prior to departure than in an intercontinental phone call in the midst of a crisis.

Planning To Be Safe. Remember there are no guarantees concerning personal safety anywhere in the world. Personal safety requires that you pay careful attention to your surroundings and act accordingly. The US Department of State issues several kinds of public announcements for travelers going abroad. Travel Warnings advise US citizens of countries or parts of countries to avoid. Public Announcements warn about terrorist activity and other short-term threats. Consular Information Sheets have information for every country in the world about the crime risk and any areas of unrest, as well as issues such as visa requirements and the quality of medical care available. Contact the State Department at 202-647-4000, or visit their website at

Get as much information as possible about the safety of your study abroad program before departure. Ask your program sponsor or a representative from your host school:

  • What can you do to enhance your safety in the neighborhood in which you’ll be living?
  • If you’re staying in a dormitory, what kind of security is provided?
  • If you’re living with a host family, have they been thoroughly investigated by the program? Have they hosted US or other international students before?
  • If there are program-related excursions, what kind of safety provisions have been made for them?
  • Who is available on-site in case of an emergency?

For more safe travel tips, request the pamphlet “A Safe Trip Abroad” from:
US Government Printing Office
Washington, DC 20420
Phone: 202-512-1800

Pre-arrangements for Return to Home and to Campus
Planning for departure also involves some planning for return to your home institution.

An important element to think about before you leave the country is which courses you will need to take on your return. Many colleges and universities allow their study abroad students to pre-register for the courses they will take upon their return. Students usually complete the paperwork prior to leaving and are then actually registered for their class either by the study abroad office staff or by the students’ academic advisor. Make sure that you understand the procedure at your school so that you will get registered in the appropriate manner.

Housing. Depending on whether you plan to live in on-campus housing or off-campus in an apartment when you return, you need to make your housing arrangements before you go. Some study abroad offices will send on-campus housing forms to you overseas to be completed or this may be done prior to departure. Check to see what the procedure is. If you are going to live in an apartment, you may even need to sign a lease and pay a deposit. You may even need to find someone to sublet your apartment during the time you will be overseas.

Transfer of Credit. If you are participating in a program that is not sponsored by your institution, there may be additional forms to complete. You may be required to take a leave of absence or you may need to actually withdraw from your school for the time period of your overseas study. Submitting readmission papers may be required. Will you get home institution credit or transfer credit for your course work? Your transition back into campus life at your school will be much easier if all paperwork is completed and procedures followed before your departure.

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