By Molly Jensen
Studying abroad is one of the most worthwhile experiences a college student can have. Don’t believe me? Do a simple Google search and see how many “10 Reasons to Study Abroad” type of blog posts come up. But between making the decision to study abroad and actually getting to your new temporary home halfway across the world, a lot of things need to happen.
The first thing you should do is talk to other students who have studied abroad, especially anyone who’s gone to the same university or country you’re headed to. You’re going to have to learn the local customs and laws; something that’s not a big deal here might be disrespectable – or worse — in your host country. If you get in trouble with the law, you aren’t going to be able to get out of anything just because you’re a foreign student.
When you’re set on your destination, then the planning begins.
- Get your passport, visa, and plane ticket. Make sure you apply for your passport and visa with enough time to receive them before you leave.
- Consider getting an International Student Identity Card. This is the only card internationally recognized as proof of full-time student status. Among its benefits, the ISIC can get you discounts on travel, entertainment, and education.
- Go to the doctor, dentist, eye doctor, and any other medical professional you see on a regular basis. Get any necessary immunizations and refill your prescriptions. If you anticipate having to refill your prescriptions again while you’re traveling, research that and come up with a plan.
- Know the address of where you’ll be living. Don’t just have it typed up in a text draft in your phone – memorize it. Know it backwards. Know it better than the inside of your eyelids.
- Get contact information for the nearest U.S. embassy and consulate as well as the local hospital and police station. Consider joining the STEP program, especially if you’re planning on doing any travel as part of your stay abroad.
- Determine if your debit and credit cards will work overseas and if there are additional charges for using them to make purchases in the local currency. Depending on how long you’ll be abroad, you may want to get an account at a local bank.
- Figure out if your cell phone will work. What sort of international fees will you have to pay? You can buy a local SIM card for your phone and pay as you go, or consider downloading an app like Whatsapp and Skype that allows you to call and/or text for free while using Wi-Fi.
- Research if there are any food-safety issues where you’re headed. This isn’t just if you have allergies; different countries treat their food differently than we do here and it’s important to be aware of the differences.
- When you’re packing, pack as light as possible. Consider saving space by leaving bedding, shower products, blow dryers, and other inexpensive, bulky items at home and then buying cheap (or fancy, if you choose) replacements when you settle into your new temporary home.
And now for the main event: travel insurance. (After all, this wouldn’t be a BHTP blog post if we didn’t talk about travel insurance.) Studying abroad is all about having life-changing experiences, but you want positive experiences, not the memory of forking out hundreds of dollars for something travel insurance could have covered.
Before you run off and buy the first travel policy you find, figure out what coverages you’ll need. Think about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, as well as your personal habits and if you’ll be working or volunteering while you’re abroad. You might even want to consider tuition insurance. Whatever you choose, be sure to get what you need and avoid what you don’t. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection’s ExactCare includes a variety of travel-insurance coverages — medical insurance, emergency medical evacuation, trip cancellation, theft insurance, and baggage insurance.
- Find out how much your current insurance policies will cover. No use buying travel insurance for something you’d already be covered for.
- Figure out if you’ll have to purchase the local insurance. My cousin will be studying abroad in Germany next year, and he has to pay for the German health-care system while he’s over there. If you’ll be in a similar situation, figure out coverages, copays, and so forth, in case there are any gaps you want to fill. Also, check if you’ll have coverage if you leave your host country.
- If you’re doing a program through school, talk to an advisor or administrator about insurance. Some schools have prearranged low-cost insurance and/or discounts for preferred providers. They can also help explain what would and would not be covered with those policies.
- If you’re traveling through a tour, consider getting the insurance offered by the tour operator. Check the coverages and maybe do some math to see what gives you the most coverage for the lowest price.
- If you still need coverage after exploring all those options, it’s time for side-by-side comparisons of travel-insurance companies. When you’re comparing different policies, consider the different maximum coverages; coverages for lost, damaged, or stolen personal property; deductibles; plus any emergency services and assistance.
With all of that covered, you can stop worrying. Or maybe you won’t, because you’ll still have to decide which classes you’ll take, which restaurants to try first, which cities you’ll have to take day trips to, and, of course, how you’ll fit everything into your trip.
Molly Jensen is a member of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.