Studying abroad is an incredible and once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s the chance to travel to and live in a foreign country of your choosing to experience and learn from another culture by being immersed in it. In many cases, it opens you up to the possibility of traveling to other nearby cities and countries.
However, since you will be in a foreign country, it’s important to be prepared and take certain precautions to stay safe and ensure your time abroad is an enriching and rewarding experience. Plus, these precautions will help Mom and Dad have confidence you’re safe when you’re so far away.
- Get familiar with local laws and customs
No matter where you plan to study abroad, you’ll be expected to obey the laws and customs, which can include standards of dress, photography restrictions, telecommunication restrictions, curfews and more. A great place to find this type of information specific for the country you’ll be studying in – and anywhere you plan to travel to outside of classes – is the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website for country-specific information.
- Sign up for the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
Signing up for this free service will ensure you automatically receive the latest updates and information about the country you’re studying in, including travel warnings and alerts. This program makes it easier for consular officers in U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to contact you and your loved ones in case of emergency.
- Get travel health insurance
Whether you have your own health insurance or are still under your parents’ plan, it may not cover you while you’re studying abroad. If you get sick or injured abroad and need to visit a hospital or clinic, you’ll likely have to pay out-of-pocket for any services, which can be very expensive. Even if you’re studying in a country with nationalized health care, there’s a chance it doesn’t cover people who aren’t citizens.
Find out if your health insurance in the U.S. covers emergencies abroad. If your health insurance won’t be adequate for your time abroad, consider buying a short-term supplemental policy. You can also speak to the Study Abroad coordinator at your school for assistance with this.
- Protect your passport, money and important documents
When you’re abroad, your passport is one of the most important documents you need to keep safe. Theft of American tourist passports is on the rise – your passport should remain with you at all times in front pants pockets or in a pouch hidden in your clothes. Some hotels have a routine policy of holding your passport at the front desk during your stay – they may use it to register you with the local police. If this is the case, ask for a receipt and make sure you pick it up when you check out.
Make copies of all of the important documents in case of loss or theft – the documents you should make copies of include your passport, driver’s license, student ID, health insurance cards, and any travel tickets. Make multiple copies of any government-issued IDs and store them in a secure place or on file with a trusted person. You should also leave copies at home with your parents or guardians in case they can mail, fax or email you spare copies.
If your passport gets lost or stolen, immediately report it to your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Keep your money, credit and debit cards stored in a safe or another secure place. In fact, don’t bother bringing any credit or debit cards abroad you don’t absolutely need. Try to not be flashy with cash when you’re out and about – this can be inviting for thieves and pickpockets. Don’t carry your wallet in back pockets or anywhere easily accessible to others. Girls should make sure their purses are zipped shut and, when carrying a backpack, secure the zippers with small locks.
- Stay abreast of current events
While you’re studying abroad, it’s incredibly important to be aware of what’s going on at home, the foreign country you’re in and the countries surrounding you. Staying up-to-date on the political climate will keep you be aware of how your home country is being represented. In general, you should avoid any situations involving protesters, public demonstrations and civil unrest. Keeping yourself aware of current events around the world will help you avoid any accidental offensive behavior or scenes of an unwelcome nature.
In addition to reading and watching the news, you can also keep yourself aware of serious situations by reviewing the State Department’s travel alerts and warnings.
Keep these tips handy and prepare for the experience of a lifetime!