How to Arrange Your Own Study Abroad Program (5/5)
This is the last article of a series of 5, explaining how to arrange your own study abroad program.
First article: Decide Where to Go
Second article: Determine When to Go
Third article: Language Problems and Programs
Fourth article: How to Pay for It
After you've made the difficult decisions concerning where to conduct your study abroad program, when you want to go and have arranged to pay for it, it's time to get down to nuts and bolts of making the final arrangements to go. It's a good idea to keep a checklist and mark each task when it is completed.
If the program you have chosen provides accommodations for its students, either on campus or in the area, it's wise to take advantage of it. The accommodations will almost always be safe, clean and accessible to campus or to transportation, even if they are not always luxurious. If you are very familiar with the area (through prior visits or friends and family in the region), you may be able to obtain cheaper accommodations on your own, but again, allow sufficient lead time. If the program does not provide accommodations and you don't have insider information, ask about recommendations from the program staff or administrators. This is one area where it is unwise to rely on Internet searches alone. Never take a room or a flat sight unseen unless it is issued or recommended by someone you know or your study abroad program. If all else fails, make arrangements to arrive early and stay at a hostel while you search for accommodations.
Shipping a car overseas is almost never advisable unless you are relocating permanently, and sometimes not even then. The costs are prohibitive, and in some instances, your vehicle may not be allowed in the host country. Car rentals may also be very expensive as well, with restrictions on who is eligible to rent. An International Driving Permit is inexpensive and may make it easier to obtain a rental car overseas. It also serves as a good form of identification to carry with you instead of your passport, which should be kept in a safe place while you are abroad.
In many urban areas especially, public transit is a safe, inexpensive form of transportation, although possibly confusing to a newcomer. In other areas, this is very risky, especially for women travelling alone. This is a subject where asking the staff of your institution (or friends in the area) for advice is a very good idea. . Many public transit systems have their own websites which are at least partially translated into English. Check them out, and obtain schedules and maps ahead of time and study the routes you are most likely to take during your study abroad program.
You should also ask the staff of your institution about practical matters such as shopping, banking, and currency exchange. One easy way to obtain local currency is through an ATM (automated teller machine), even though there are usually fees involved. Nonetheless, the currency exchange rates are usually good, and many bank debit cards, as well as Visa or MasterCard debit cards, can be used worldwide. Check with your home bank about the procedure involved before you leave. In addition, you should study the official government and tourist websites for the country, city or local region as well as the website for your study abroad institution for transportation information, local laws and customs, as well as other pertinent information. The more familiar you are before you arrive, the better.
Be sure your passport is up to date and valid, and allow plenty of time to obtain a visa and/or residence permit if you need one or both. Some countries require that you have at least six months validity on your passport after the end date of your planned stay. Whether you need a visa will depend on your home country and/or how long you plan to remain in your host country. Check with your institution and with the embassy of the country you are visiting. If you do need a visa, ask your institution (or volunteer organization) to provide you with a letter of introduction to present along with your visa application. This will almost always be provided without question, although you may need to pay all applicable fees beforehand.
If you are travelling to or from the developing world, you may need immunizations. Again, check with the official government information or tourist website for your host country. It's also a good idea to check out the health care facilities for your host country, especially if you have health issues. You should also check whether your present insurance coverage will be valid in your host country. It not, you should purchase travel insurance, which may be required by the host institution or the country you choose to visit, and is highly advisable to have in any event.
You should also obtain an international calling card as well as an inexpensive GSM phone with a prepaid SIM card for the country or countries you are visiting. International roaming charges can be outrageously expensive. Telestial offers a variety of products and offers excellent service. In the scramble to take care of all these details, be sure you don't forget to put a temporary hold on your mail, newspaper and other deliveries, especially if you will be overseas for more than two weeks. Having someone look in on your house or flat is a good idea as well. If you have food in your refrigerator, you should dispose of it or give it to a friend. If you have pets, you should arrange for their care.
The main point (which cannot be stressed enough), is to allow
sufficient lead time to make all the necessary arrangements to ensure
that your study abroad program is a success. Although the process can
be somewhat complex, it is possible for nearly anyone to be able to
study abroad if the desire is strong enough, and the rewards are
definitely worth it. Once all the pieces are in place, all that's left
is to pack up and go!
The links below are for embassy offices worldwide, as well as further information on international driving permits, travel insurance, mobile phones and related resources.
Embassy Listings (For Visa and Residence Permit Information)
International Driving Permits
- AAA International Driving Permits for Americans Travelling Abroad
- Drivers.com: The International Driving Permit
- Drivers.com: Where to Get International Driving Permits Worldwide
- Information on International Driving Permits for Foreign Drivers Visiting the United States
- National Automobile Club (USA): Non-Member Services (Including International Driving Permits)
Other Practical Information
Freelance writer based in Chicago