Studying abroad is an experience of a lifetime, but the idea of moving for a quite long period of time and adapting to a completely different culture can be both exciting and intimidating. The process of preparing for such a trip can be quite confusing and physically challenging; which is why in order to make the best of your international experience and travel safe, you should spend the weeks before your departure gathering information and planning your trip. This will help you get as familiar as you can with the destination you're traveling to, ensure you pack wisely, and make sure you have all the necessary travel documents.
Here are some tips and advice which can help you be safe and stay smart while traveling during your study abroad experience.
Visas and Travel Documents: According to how long you intend to study abroad you might need a student visa. Check with your school or your agent, they will be able to guide through the whole process. Even if you don't need a student visa, advise with your embassy if you need a visitor visa to enter the country. Getting the proper documents and approvals can be a lengthy process, so make sure you start applying well in advance of your trip to ensure you have enough time to complete everything.
Even if your not planning on staying long enough to require a student/travel visa, it can be helpful to double check what you would need to do should you desire to stay longer than you had originally planned. Sometimes students love where they are visiting so much that they want to continue to work and live in the city after their wonderful study experience.
Passport: A basic requirement to travel and study abroad is that you hold a valid passport. Make sure the expiry date goes at least 6 moths beyond you're intended return date and double check you have enough blank pages in order to get new stamps.
Two helpful tips for specific situations:
If you're traveling to the United States you should check if you will need to upgrade your passport to a more modern electronic format.
If you're a European citizen traveling within Europe you might be able to just use your valid ID card, but it's always good to double check with the consulate offices in your country to make sure.
Personal Health: Nowadays similar medicines can be found almost everywhere. Plan on visiting your doctor though if you have a medical condition that requires prescription drugs, allowing you to bring along enough for the entire length of your stay. In case you have a medical condition (i.e. allergies) it is always recommended that you bring copies of your medical records with you in the event of an emergency.
Health Insurance: It's always a safe bet to get a travel insurance if your planning to study and live abroad, in case of an emergency or need of medical assistance. In countries like the United States and Canada health care costs for assistance can be very high for foreigners, so it can be very useful to have a valid health insurance. Talk with various local insurance companies to try and balance both the costs and the benifits of different available policies for your trip.
Money: Using Debit/Credit cards is the easiest way to pay and get cash in almost every destination in the world. Check with your bank if the cards you own will work internationally, as well as find out information about withdrawal, currency conversion, and international fees so that you can use your cards wisely. Debit/Credit cards are not always accepted for payments at all locations, so make sure you always carry some cash with you as well. Traveler's cheques are another valid option and can be changed in almost every bank. However, always make sure you bring some cash in the local currency to use especially during the first days of your stay.
Flight: Airline tickets can be easily booked online, so start checking the prices at least three months in advanced and monitor the price changes to try and purchase wisely. If you don't feel comfortable in buying your ticket by yourself, a good option is to directly call the airline to check any deals they might have or ask agencies that usually provide good deals for students.
Electronic Devices: Something you can quickly take care of is to check that your electronic devices work on your destinations voltage. Different countries use different plug types and different voltages so doing a quick check will tell you if you need an adapter/converter. These are widely available and can be purchased online for much cheap than you would normally find in stores or at the airport.
Mobile Phone: Having a local phone number (buying a local SIM card) can be very helpful to keep in touch with the new people you meet during your travels. Using your own mobile number and phone provider can be a lot more expensive due to international roaming fees. Instead it is much easier nowadays to get a SIM: simply compare fares of several local providers and choose the one that fit your needs the most in the city you are studying in.
Usually you can also get good deals on international messaging or calling so that you can talk to your friends and family back home without spending too much. It is also very helpful to make sure your mobile phone works in your destination country, by checking the frequencies used on the local networks against the ones supported by your phone. In the end however, it sometimes might just end up being both cheaper and easier to purchase a new phone without tying yourself up in a contract, if your set on having a phone while traveling.
Getting Around: The Internet is a big source of information and if you use it wisely it can be very helpful to planning the perfect experience studying abroad. Have a look at some area maps before leaving, locate your school and accommodations within the city and spend some time getting familiar with the transport system to make it easier to get around. Usually schools provide airport pick up on your arrival; if they don't, check on the internet the easiest way for you to get from the airport to your accommodation or school. It will be easier to get around and you will avoid feeling lost on your very first day!
Weather and Packing: Check the long-term weather forecast as well as seasonal averages to avoid surprises at your arrival. By being informed about the seasons and packing accordingly you can be better prepared for your daily adventures in your new city. Packing is always an important balance, but be careful about over packing; if you will need something you forgot, you will always be able to buy it!
Be Prepared: You can always get a jump start on your education and get used to the English language by reading an English book, watching English television shows, and playing games which promote the use of the English language. It is a good idea to bring a small dictionary to help you initially understand some foreign words. This will help you feel more comfortable on your arrival, and make it easier to communicate with the locals.
To find out more ways to save money you can read more on How to plan a low cost trip to study English abroad.