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Six Things All International Students Should Do Before Traveling

Studying abroad is an exciting and potentially life-changing experience. However, it is not all fun and games. In fact, there are some less exciting -- and let’s face it, even downright boring -- details you need to attend to in order to survive and thrive as an international student. Start with these six things to set yourself up for success while studying abroad.

Sep 25, 2018
  • Education
  • Study Abroad
  • Student Tips
  • Visa
Six Things All International Students Should Do Before Traveling

Studying abroad is an exciting and potentially life-changing experience. However, it is not all fun and games. In fact, there are some less exciting -- and let’s face it, even downright boring -- things you need to do in order to survive and thrive as an international student. Set yourself up for success by attending to these six tasks before venturing abroad.

1. Line up health insurance.

Unfortunately, illness or injury can strike anywhere -- even when you are overseas and having the time of your life. Having life insurance in place offers crucial protection when the unforeseeable happens. Because health insurance is so important, many schools require international students to have it before participating in a study abroad program. In this case, they will likely administer the policy which makes the process refreshingly straightforward.

This does not mean you can’t opt for your own insurance, however -- particularly if you are looking for a different level of coverage. Be sure to check in directly with your school regarding whether it offers a health insurance plan and what to expect from the coverage.

Erin Caswell, Assistant Vice President of the LewerMark Student Insurance division, suggests, “In general, you should look for a policy that offers you at least $100,000 in medical coverage for illness or accident. The policy you select should also include 24-hour emergency assistance at no additional cost. These are the bare minimums you should select; if you know you’re prone to illness or tend to be accident-prone, purchasing more coverage is advisable.”

2. Look into opening a bank account.

While you don’t have to open an account overseas, doing so has several benefits, including eliminating worries about exchange rates and withdrawal fees.

The good news? Opening a foreign bank account does not have to be difficult. To get started, ask your host school for recommendations. It may have partnerships in place that will get you more favorable terms. If your host school does not have connections, check in with local banks to see if they offer a student account option. Expect to have to provide certain documentation, but the process is otherwise fairly straightforward. Just be sure to do your due diligence and read all of the fine print before signing on the dotted line. Choosing a bank located close to your host school and with English-speaking staff are additional advantages.

The Study Abroad Blog recommends signing up for an account with the Global ATM Alliance, a consortium of several large international banks that allow customers fee-free reciprocity when using their ATM or debit cards.

If you do not want to open a new bank account, check in with your bank so you will know what to expect while banking overseas -- especially if your bank does not have an international presence.

3. Register with your home government.

Being overseas can sometimes feel like you are in an entirely different world. Especially in these uncertain times, registering your time abroad with your home government can offer you invaluable peace of mind should an emergency occur.

The US Department of State, for example, offers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or 'STEP.' This free service for Americans living and traveling abroad gives participants access to important information about safety conditions in their host countries. It also means the US Embassy can contact you in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency.

4. Know your visa requirements.

Visa requirements do not just differ by country; they also differ by nationality. Understanding your visa requirements is essential to understanding everything from how long you can stay to where you can travel while you are there to whether you can work while abroad.

StudentUniverse offers a handy, interactive tool that lets you input your nationality and where you live to learn which visas you will need for the country or countries where you are headed.

5. Find a phone and internet contract.

The ability to communicate matters a lot when you are in a foreign country. And while technology has made it easier than ever to connect with friends and loved ones wherever in the world they may be, it is up to you to make sure you have got all the right pieces in place. Start by talking to your home plan provider; many offer international plans which will allow you to continue using your devices while overseas. Others, however, will not offer international coverage or will charge crazy-high rates.

Also, keep in mind that while many smartphones can work internationally, they may need to be configured to do so first. Rather than waiting until you are abroad to set this up, ask your provider to do so before you leave for your trip. This will ensure that you are never out of touch.

If your phone cannot be configured to work overseas or if it is cost-prohibitive to go down this route, plan on buying a study abroad phone once you have arrived in your destination. The type of phone and phone plan to get depends on several factors, such as how long you are studying abroad.

Not sure what to do? Ask your study abroad program provider for recommendations.

6. Remember that life goes on at home while you are away.

Just because you are gone does not mean your affairs at home automatically go on pause. Before you go, determine how you will manage any property you own or rent, pay your bills, deal with mail, access money, file taxes, and other details. The more thorough you are in attending to these details, the fewer unpleasant surprises you’ll have waiting for you when you return.

If you have studied abroad, were there any things you wish you had done before you left? If so, please share your experiences and/or tips in the comments section.

Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.