Posted on by Jessica Holmes

Congratulations on your decision to study abroad! International study and travel is an exciting and enriching experience, and one you will carry with you throughout your life. But before you leave the U.S. to study abroad, there are a number of factors to consider. Smart planning for your time away will help you make your experience even richer. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you prepare:

Why Prepare for Studying Abroad?

Preparation will be your key to a successful study abroad experience; in fact, it can literally make or break your adventure! Remember, you’ll be living, studying, and possibly working in a country whose culture and customs, and possibly its language, are different from what you are used to at home. Students who inadequately prepare to study abroad often find themselves encountering difficulties upon arrival in their host country, making it difficult to fully enjoy and take advantage of the experience. Proper preparation, before you leave, can provide peace of mind once you arrive, allowing you to more fully focus on your studies and enjoy your time abroad.

Study Abroad Must-Haves

Once you’ve decided where you’ll be studying abroad, the next step is to get your essentials in order. In addition to the following list, you should also check the specific requirements or recommendations from your host university or program as they might have additional suggestions tailored to your location and academic program.

The most important items to prepare include:

  • Passport and Visas
  • Health Preparations (medical checkups, procuring your medication, etc)
  • Accommodations
  • Cultural Preparations (language study, cultural etiquette, etc)
  • Emergency Contacts
  • Packing Tips
  • Financial Resource

Study Abroad Tips: How to Prepare Before You Leave

Once you know where you’d like to study abroad, considering your finances should be your next step. Calculate the cost of living, tuition fees, and other expenses, and consider the exchange rate from the dollar to the unit of currency in your host country. This will help you estimate whether living abroad in the country of your choice will likely be more or less expensive than in the U.S. Explore scholarships, grants, and financial aid options, and pursue any you may qualify for as early as possible. 

Once you’ve selected your study abroad program, ensure the courses you plan to take abroad align with your academic goals and transfer back to your home institution. If your college or university offers a study abroad program in the country where you’d like to spend time, it will make transferring credits between institutions easier. Also, if you’ll be studying in a non-native language, brush up on your language skills! Consider taking language courses before departure.

Visas and Documentation

Understand the visa requirements of your host country and gather necessary documents such as passports, student visas, and any required permits. Some countries don’t require any visas or permits, some require one or more, and some countries will require you to have a special student visa if you are studying abroad. Make sure you find out the requirements well ahead of time and have any required visas or permits in order before you enter your host nation. Also, be sure your passport is up-to-date and will not expire during the time you are traveling.

Health Preparations

Sometimes immunizations are required for you to visit certain countries. Check for any requirements and ensure your immunizations and vaccinations are up-to-date before you leave the U.S. It’s also important to ensure that your health insurance will cover you while you are abroad, and familiarize yourself with the healthcare system in the nation you’ll be visiting. Finally, if you take any medications, talk to your doctor about carrying a supply with you for the duration of the time you’ll be away, and make sure you’ll be able to access your medication in your host country in the event of an emergency.


Arrange housing—whether through the university’s dorms, homestays, or private rentals—before you arrive in your host nation. The last thing you want to do is scramble for somewhere to stay right before you arrive! Most academic study abroad programs will assist students in finding housing for the duration of their program. Take advantage of that assistance, as program administrators will have experience in dealing with a host university’s dorm system, and/or knowledge of rentals or offsite housing in the city where you’ll be living.

Cultural Preparations

Before you leave for your time abroad, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with cultural norms, etiquette, and traditions in your host country. Remember: customs in your host country will not be “better” or “worse,” but they will be different than what you are used to! 

Practicing open-mindedness will help you to assimilate more quickly—embrace new experiences and be open to different perspectives. Be prepared for potential challenges in adjusting to a new environment, and accept that this is part of the experience of living and studying in a different country. On a practical level, it is also smart to acquaint yourself with the safety protocols, local laws, and emergency procedures of your host nation.

Emergency Contacts

It’s important to carry a list of contacts when you study abroad, including local emergency services, embassy/consulate information, and university support services. Other contact info that would be smart to have includes contact information for your bank any credit cards you’ll be carrying health insurance, and phone provider. Also, ensure you have a contact at your U.S. university and a couple of reliable personal contacts you can call upon in an emergency. If you have a personal contact in your host country who is familiar with local laws and customs and could assist you in an urgent situation, carry their contact info as well.

Packing Tips

When you are studying abroad, focus on what is absolutely necessary to pack and take with you, and what can be purchased after you arrive in your host country (such as food and toiletries). Understand what the climate will be like in the country you’re visiting for your trip, and pack accordingly. It’s also smart to take clothing and shoes that you can easily mix and match, rather than overpacking. 

A common packing checklist for students studying abroad includes: 

  • Passport, visas, and/or permits
  • Electrical adaptors
  • Phone and laptop, and appropriate charging cords
  • Climate-appropriate clothing
  • Emergency contact list
  • Supply of any necessary medications
  • Credit Cards and bank cards
  • Local currency

Financial Resources

Before you leave for your study abroad experience, it’s crucial that you have a financial game plan in place. Again, researching the exchange rate between U.S. currency and that of your host country will help you to budget in advance. Before you go, exchanging some U.S. currency for the local currency in your host country is smart, so you have some cash on hand when you arrive. 

Also, be sure you understand the parameters of your bank and credit cards before you go: Will it be simple to access your bank account from local ATMs? How abundant are ATMs in the country you’ll be staying? Do your credit cards offer any travel protections, assistance, and/or perks? Having this information before you leave will help you to feel financially secure once you arrive.

It’s important that you manage your finances carefully while you’re abroad—the last thing you want to do is run out of money in a place that is unfamiliar to you! In addition to your banks and credit cards, consider a reliable money transfer service company like Sharemoney to help you manage your finances and/or be a backup plan in case of an emergency. 

With a company like Sharemoney, a U.S. contact can quickly and easily transfer money directly to you, often in just minutes! Having that extra peace of mind will help you relax, so you can have the best, once-in-a-lifetime, study abroad experience possible.

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