So, you got into a program at a foreign university of your choice and are getting ready to leave on a plane, boat, train, or in your parents’ car to start your new life as an international student. But while you’re waiting for summer to end and school to start, you might want to go through our study abroad checklist to make sure you’re as ready as you can be for your trip.
Whether you want to study abroad for a month, a semester, a full academic year, or a full degree, it’s important to think about important, bureaucratic things like travel insurance that will help your time abroad go as smoothly as possible.
Read on for our list of must-haves for studying abroad.
We know you’re not stupid. Of course you’re not going to forget your passport. But before you go on your study abroad trip, you might want to check to see if your passport will still be valid for the whole time.
For visa applications and other things, many countries will want you to have at least six months left on your passport after you finish your studies. Make sure you have enough time for your studies, any extra travel time, and an extra six months.
If you need to renew your passport, make sure you do it as soon as possible so you don’t have to go to school without one. Processing times vary by country, but it usually takes at least six weeks.
If you wait until you’re abroad to renew your passport, you’ll have to go to the embassy, wait in line, and fill out even more forms than usual. These are the last things you want to do when you’re in a new, exciting place.
2. Student visa
Depending on where you want to study, you may need to get a student visa to stay in the country for the whole time you are in school. If you want to get your first degree at an accredited university, the school will often help you get a student visa. But this isn’t always true, so make sure to ask. If no one offers to help, get right to work on getting your student visa on your own.
To do this, you will need to contact the embassy or consulate of the country where you will be studying. You may also need to make an appointment as part of your application for a student visa. Here, you’ll be asked to bring things like a letter of approval from your university, a valid passport, proof of funds, and sometimes a return ticket for when you finish your studies and want to go home.
When planning your finances, make sure you have money that is safe and easy to get to for the whole time you are traveling.
You have to bring the local currency with you, but don’t rely on cash alone or take out a lot of cash at once. Make sure to change your money before you get to the airport, where the exchange rates are not as good. You can often do this at your local bank, travel agency, bureau de change, post office, some supermarkets, or even through a specialized online provider. Sites like Moneysupermarket that compare prices can help you find the best deals.
You should also have a bank account that you can access with a cash card, credit card, local ATMs, or a branch of an international bank. Most big banks are known all over the world, but you may have to pay a small fee every time you take money out or use your card to pay. Make sure your card is good for the whole length of your trip and that you tell your bank before you go so that your card doesn’t get blocked.
Once you know how you’ll get your money while you’re gone, you’ll have to be smart about how you spend it. Keeping a budget is one of the best and hardest things you can do to avoid being broke at the end of each term, whether you pay for school with savings, a student loan, a scholarship, or money from a part-time job.
Make a list of all your costs before you leave, from where you will stay to what you will eat and do every day. Find out how much money you’ll need per week to live, and if it’s not enough, think about cutting back on non-essentials or looking into other ways to get money.
Visit our site section > for more information on how to manage your money as a student.
4. Scholarships for international students
If all this talk about money is making you nervous, you might want to look into international student scholarships to see if you can get extra money for your studies.
Your first stop should be the website of your new university, where you can find information on all of the scholarships, grants, and bursaries they offer to students. Many of these awards are based on a specific subject or a student’s needs, and some are only given to students with high grades or from minority groups. If your school doesn’t offer anything you can use, you might be able to get money from somewhere else. Companies like International Scholarships have complete lists of student scholarships around the world that are paid for by outside sources.
All student scholarships, however, are very popular, so make sure to look into scholarships well before you go to college. You’ll need to put a lot of effort into your application and pay close attention to the deadlines.
At QS, we also have a number of scholarships for international postgraduate students. You can see the full list here to learn more.
5. Student ID card for international students (ISIC)
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) should be on the list of things to bring for every international student who wants to study abroad. It gives discounts on goods and services all over the world. Check online to see if the International Student Identity Card would be useful to you. You could get discounts on public transportation, travel insurance, international calling cards, phone repairs, Segway tours, and more!
The International Student Travel Confederation is the group behind the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). It has offices in 106 countries and can help international students with many travel problems they may face.
6. Travel insurance
Travel insurance might seem like a cost that isn’t necessary, but it is very important. For a small, one-time fee, travel insurance will cover you if anything bad happens to you while you’re studying, like getting sick, hurt, or stolen. This way, you won’t have to spend all of your money on a trip to the doctor. In many countries, international students must also have health insurance. You may be asked to show proof that you have enough coverage.
Before you leave home, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for a full checkup and to make sure you’ve had all the vaccinations you might need for your study destination. For countries far away, these shots will cost money, but you can be sure that your doctor will tell you if you really need them.
If you need care while you’re away, make sure your doctor sends a copy of your medical records to the country where you’ll be staying. Prescriptions from other countries aren’t always accepted, so it’s best to give yourself extra time to get your prescription before your medicine runs out.
If you want to study abroad in a country where you don’t speak the language, don’t be afraid! People usually speak at least a little bit of English in many European countries and in most of Asia. Even so, you should think about taking some lessons in the local language before you leave, so that you can fully interact with the people and learn about their culture.
Before, learning a language meant taking an evening class or reading/listening to a number of “teach yourself” materials. Now, smartphone apps like Duolingo offer complete ways to learn a language on your own time, with a mix of listening, speaking, and writing to help you learn more before you leave.
If you forget your phone, though, don’t forget to bring a phrasebook. Being able to talk to locals in a polite way will be very helpful, especially if you get lost in a new town or city.
Every student who wants to study abroad should make sure they have the skills and tools to get around and learn about their new country and culture. If you want to travel on a budget, you’ll need to book your initial tickets (and your return tickets!) before you leave. You should also look into other ways to get around once you’re in the country.
You can compare prices of transportation all over the world on the internet, which is a great tool for this. If you plan to travel by train a lot, you might also find it useful to buy a railcard. The same goes for bus or coach cards. If you buy deals like this before you leave, you won’t have to use your travel money once you get there. But make sure you only buy what you will really need!