Booking a flight, securing your travel documents, packing, and planning your additional travel are some the most exciting parts of planning for an education abroad experience, but it can all be a little intimidating at the same time. The University of Wisconsin-Platteville Education Abroad office offers some resources and suggestions to make planning a little easier.
Apply for Documentation
A U.S. Passport is required to apply for any education abroad program and to leave the country and enter another. Visit the U.S. Department of State’s website for more information on applying for a U.S. passport.
Many countries require that you obtain a visa prior to your arrival in that country, and it is your responsibility to secure a visa. A visa is an official document affixed in a U.S. passport by the country’s consulate, granting you permission to live and study in that country for the duration that the visa is valid. If necessary, you will be given additional visa information upon application. For the most up to date information on visa requirements, you can also visit the U.S. Department of State’s website.
Most education abroad programs will not require a “group flight” but will allow you to book a flight independently as long as arrival and departure requirements are met. You have the flexibility to book through a travel agent, or through any number of online travel search engines or agencies.
- Flights are usually cheaper during mid-week travel.
- Check alternative itineraries by changing dates, since departing a few days earlier can save you money.
Online Search and Agencies
Use a search engine or agency to find the cheapest departure date and time, and then go to the airline’s website to book the ticket. Airlines may match or beat the price listed on an online search engine.
- AirfareWatchdog.com offers additional tips on finding the cheapest flights.
- Student Universe offers discounted flights and deals for students.
A suggested packing list will be provided to you upon acceptance. However, keep in mind that students often purchase additional items (local fashion, souvenirs, etc.) while abroad, so leave extra space in your luggage or bring an extra bag for the return flight.
Most basic items (toiletries, school supplies, etc.) can be purchased worldwide, so you can bring a small supply to get you started and buy more in-country as needed.
Watch this video for some helpful packing tips.
In most cases, setting up a bank account abroad is not advantageous or permitted for study abroad students. Instead:
- Take a small amount of U.S. dollars to exchange into the local currency upon arrival. Exchanging money in the host country will get students a better exchange rate and will give them enough cash to get them started as they are orientating themselves in the new location.
- Use a U.S. debit card to withdraw local currency. Withdrawing local currency through an ATM will often offer the best exchange rate and is very easy in most locations. Students should confirm their U.S. bank’s international transaction fee and alert the bank that they will be traveling, so the card does not get cut off.
- Know that swiping debit cards to pay is not as common or accepted abroad, so it is important to have cash on hand.
- Get a credit card just in case. Having a credit card in case of emergency offers peace of mind for students and their parents.
Xe.com lists up-to-the-minute worldwide currency exchange rates.
Online Travel Resources
It is important to learn a little about your host country’s culture, history, and current events prior to departure, and some recommended resources include:
- CountryReports.org: Country-specific cultural, historical, and statistical information
- ISEP Country Handbooks: Country-specific education, visa and residency, culture, daily life, money matters, health and safety, and packing information
- ThePaperBoy.com: Newspaper links from around the globe
U.S. Department of State Country Specific Information: Country-specific safety and security, visas and residency, country facts sheets, and travel information
- U.S. Department of State Students Abroad: Information on everything from health to smart travel and from news and alerts to voting abroad
Researching accommodations and must-see sites prior to traveling can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches. Some recommended resources include:
- HostelWorld.com: Read reviews on and book hostels worldwide
- Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum: Travelers from around the world use this forum to see and give advice on everything from accommodation to culture.
Electricity, Converters, and Adapters
- Determine the plug configuration and voltage of your location abroad. The two-parallel-prong plugs and a 110-volt electrical system is standard in the U.S., but not abroad. Converters or adaptors, devices into which you can plug your electronic device and then plug into the outlet, can help to bridge the gaps.
- A converter will adapt to the outlet abroad and convert the voltage (typically 220 volts) so not to “burn out” your U.S. electronics.
- Adapters will not convert the voltage but will adapt to the outlet. These devices should be purchased before you depart and can be found in most large retailers or online. Buying them stateside will be much more economical.
- Only take the essentials, because hairdryers, irons, electric shavers, etc. can be easily purchased worldwide and then you won’t run the risk of ruining your expensive U.S. electronics.
- Most new laptops convert voltage automatically, and if so, the power cord should have a label saying "Input 100V-240V/50Hz or 60Hz". In that case, an adaptor will work, and a converter is not required.
Americans are very accustomed to quick, easy, and widespread access to the internet, but you should expect to adapt to the speed, availability, and cost of Internet abroad.
Free wi-fi is not the norm in most countries, but internet cafes are very common and popular and will allow you to easily and reasonably connect to the internet.
Internet may or may not be available in your accommodations, but the internet can be easily accessed at most academic institutions once you are registered.
More than anything, it is important to remember that every moment spent online is a moment that is not spent exploring the host country, meeting new people, etc. You should plan to limit internet usage and adjust to its availability.
Cell Phones and Calling Home
Most U.S. phone providers do offer international plans, but they are not typically economical. In addition, most cell phones sold in the U.S. have a software "lock" that prevents them from working on other networks. If you have an “unlocked” phone that uses a sim card, you can take your phone abroad and purchase a sim card and a pay-as-you-go plan.
Most students will forgo all of the hassle and expense of using their U.S. phone abroad and will purchase an inexpensive one abroad to connect with friends, roommates, or host family in-country. Cell phones, comparable to U.S. track phones, can be purchased inexpensively in most countries and you can choose to purchase minutes when needed instead of committing to a plan. Recommendations on where to purchase a phone will be made during the on-site orientation.
When calling the U.S., using a local cell phone can be very costly, but texting can be affordable. More often than not, students choose to use Skype to connect with home. Skype allows students to call other Skype users for free, or to put money on their Skype account to call any landline or cell phone worldwide.