The basics
Study abroad : Essentials

Essentials: Before you leave

Have you remembered everything you need to do before leaving to study abroad? Are you sure? Read our checklist including arranging bank accounts and medical insurance...

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So after months of searching, applying and preparing, you’re now ready to leave for your study destination to begin your studies abroad. You’re probably dying with excitement right now and can’t wait to leave. But with your leaving day fast approaching, you’ve now realised just how many things you need to sort out before the big day comes.

 

So have you remembered everything? You don’t want to wait until you’re in a new country to realise you’ve forgotten something. So we’ve put together a list of things which most people forget to arrange when preparing to leave for abroad, as well as some things which will make your transition easier...

 

Important documents

It may seem obvious but the first and most important thing you’ll need to do is get your relevant travel and proof of identification documents in order. You should already have a valid passport and visa to enter the country for the duration of your course; but be sure to make photocopies of all your travel and identification documents, including your home driver’s licence or ID card, acceptance letter to your host institution and any provisional visa passes. You should always keep both the originals and the copies with you in your carry-on luggage, within a plastic pocket that’s easily accessible at all times (preferably in separate pockets or one copy actually on you in your pocket). You may be required to produce documents at a moment’s notice and if you’re organised then you’ll breeze through immigration in no time. Make sure you can prove your name, nationality, home address and acceptance to your study programme, including the commencement and end dates of your course – ideally you should have a folder which contains all of your correspondences with your university. If you’re not sure if you have everything, think how you would prove to a stranger who you are and that you are an enrolling student at your institution.

It’s also a smart idea to scan and back up all your important documents on a digital back-up system such as Dropbox or Google Drive. You can also take a photo of certain documents and upload them to your computer or phone, so that you have a digital copy on you too just in case. It’s also useful to bring any extra passport-sized photographs of yourself: you’ll be likely to need them for new documents such as your student ID card and they can be an unnecessary expense.

Check out our checklist of essential documents to have at hand when applying.

 

Transport

Do you know how you'll be getting from the airport to your university campus/accommodation? This is often something which international students don’t think about. Some international offices may arrange for someone to meet you at the airport though this might not always be possible due to resources available. Depending on the flight options to enter the country, you may be quite a way away from campus; you may even have to fly to a smaller airport which is closer to your campus and then take a bus or train (which will usually be a lot cheaper than getting a taxi cab). Use Google Maps to find the best route to reach where you’re going. Your university’s international office will be able to provide you with local information and this should all be available on their website too (usually under a ‘How to reach us’ section).

 

Accommodation 

Hopefully you’ll already have some kind of rental agreement either with a landlord or your host institution. Either way, make sure you’ve confirmed arrangements for when and where you will pick up the keys to your accommodation before you touch down. There will be a move-in date assigned to you. Do not assume that because a residence hall or apartment block has a front desk that it is always manned; many close after a certain time and only let tenants with keys into the building (a room might not be ready for you). Students moving into residence halls before semester actually starts might even find that these desks are closed altogether.

If you are unable to get the keys right away when you arrive then its better you know as early as possible so you can make other arrangements for your first few nights in the country. Standing alone with a suitcase on the doorstep of an apartment building is the last way anyone wants to start their study abroad adventure. !

In some cases you may have to arrange short-term accommodation if you arrive before your student accommodation is ready. Make sure you find a hostel, hotel or short-term room at a good price so you’re not spending too much too soon.

Browse our Student Accommodation section of articles to find out more, including ‘Accommodation questions answered by the University of Sheffield’ and ‘15 Must-ask questions when looking for off-campus accommodation’.

 

Mobile phone

Whilst in most cases it’s easier to sort out a local phone plan once you arrive in the country, make sure you’ve checked your phone will be compatible with a foreign SIM card. Take your phone to your nearest electronics or phone provider store and ask them if your phone is ‘unlocked’: i.e. able to function with a foreign SIM. If it isn’t, they should be able to unlock it for you for a small fee. 

Also think about how you plan to contact both a) your family at home to let them know you've arrived, and b) the university if you have problems before you reach campus/accommodation. Again this information should be easily accessible.

 

Medical insurance

Most campuses will have a health centre on campus where you can receive general healthcare for minor ailments. You may also choose to register at a local doctor’s practice. What healthcare you’re entitled to will depend on the study destination. For example in the UK everyone is entitled to free healthcare on the National Health Service, whereas America is notorious for having to pay a lot for healthcare unless you have proper insurance. Some countries may also require you to possess health insurance before you arrive as part of your visa application e.g. in Australia where you’ll have to provide evidence of your cover when applying for your visa).

Additionally you should carry a medical card which details any medical conditions you suffer from, your blood type and contact information for your family doctor in your country. This should be translated into English. If you take any medication, ensure you have enough supplies to keep you going for either the duration of your time abroad, until you visit home again or until you can find the same medication in your study destination.

Read our full guide, ‘Health & sickness abroad’.

 

Bank account

Most of the time it’s easier to arrange a bank account in a new country when you arrive, but if you’re only staying for a term or less then it might not be worth the hassle. Many countries have travel card options where you’re able to buy and load foreign currency into an account with your home bank that you can access from abroad. Most of the time this functions as a normal debit account; and since all the foreign currency is purchased when you load it, you won’t incur conversion charges every time you take cash out. You’ll still be likely to pay a transaction fee when you take cash from a foreign ATM, but if you organise your finances strategically this can be kept to a minimum.

If you want to use your existing bank card abroad, make sure you notify your bank that you will be doing so; otherwise they will put a hold on your card when they see transactions taking place in another country. Your bank will be able to tell you about incentives they offer to international students.

Find out why you should arrange a bank account before you arrive.

‘Opening a bank account in the USA’

 

Last-minute packing

Whilst it’s almost too tempting to pack light and buy things once abroad, the first few weeks after your arrival are unlikely to leave you with much spare time to find the best shops or go online to shop. Do your research about the climate you can expect when you arrive and what it will be like for that first term (or until you can return home to pick up more clothing).

When leaving to study abroad it’s unlikely you’ll think to pack things like towels and linen. Always double check with your accommodation provider if your room will come with these, otherwise your first few nights could be quite uncomfortable. It’s also likely that you’ll want to have a shower at a point soon after your arrival having been travelling for so long; so having a towel and other sundries at the top of your bag will come in useful.

 

And finally...a travel adaptor

It might seem silly to dedicate a whole section to adaptors or chargers for your electronic devices, but it's always the little things that tend to slip your mind. Electrical plugs require unique sockets in different countries; and without a travel adaptor bought ahead of time, you might find you spend your first few days unable to charge your phone, music player, laptop or tablet (basically, all your key lifelines). Whilst this may seem a minor inconvenience now, there’s a lot to organise during your first few days abroad; and without the internet or a phone, this will be a lot tougher. Chances are that you’ll have more than one electrical item that will need charging, so make sure you have enough cables and adaptors to keep yourself connected.

 

 

Read more:

Now that you know what to do when arriving in the your study destination, read our guide to going back for the holidays in ‘The essential travelling-home-for-the-holidays’ checklist’

’40 questions to ask yourself before you leave home’

 

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About Author

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.