Study Abroad: What to Do Before You Leave

By Christine Ascher on November 10, 2017

As your study abroad adventure approaches, you’re probably starting to feel more and more eager to get going. Between planning out all of the sites that you want to see and the trips that you want to take while you’re abroad, there’s also a lot of practical planning that you’ll need to do before you leave.

To ensure that you’re properly prepared and don’t run into any issues while you’re away, make a checklist and try to accomplish the following items before you head off.

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Figure out your phone plan

Before you go abroad, you’ll have to decide what type of phone plan you want to have for the semester. There are a few options that you’ll want to consider; for instance, you can speak with your current provider about setting up an international phone plan for the duration of your trip.

Having an international phone plan will allow you to text and call your friends and family back home, and will provide you with a certain amount of data that you can use each month. Another less expensive option is to purchase a new phone, or even just a new SIM card to put in your current phone, once you get to your host country. This will allow you to communicate with your friends who are also abroad, though you’ll have to use apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to talk to your friends and family in the U.S.


In addition to researching fun places to visit, you should also engage in some more serious research before you leave for your trip. Familiarize yourself with the customs of the country where you’re headed, as the easiest way to stay safe while abroad is to avoid standing out as a tourist.

Find out what people tend to wear so that you know what to pack that will help you blend in. If you’re going to a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s also a good idea to research some essential phrases and to try to memorize them.

Make a packing list

Once you start packing to go abroad, you’ll quickly realize that it’s a much more complicated process than just packing to go to school. You may not have access to all of the necessities that you’re used to in the U.S., so it’s important to plan ahead.

Think about the weather where you’re going and pack some essentials for all of the possibilities. You’ll probably also want to save room for souvenirs, so avoid over-packing by sticking to essential clothing items, with just a couple options for more formal or specific events. You may even want to stock up on some precautionary items like cold medicine, as you won’t be able to find the same type when you’re abroad.

Get any necessary vaccinations

Depending on where you’re going, there may be some vaccinations that are recommended for you to get before you leave. You can check out the health risks and vaccinations needed for wherever you’re going on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The CDC also recommends that you schedule routine check-ups, such as the dentist, before you leave, as it may be more difficult for you to carry out any necessary check-ups while abroad.

Research your health insurance plan

If you have student insurance with your school, you’ll probably be covered while you’re abroad. However, you should still read up on your plan before you go so that you’re prepared in case of an emergency. It’s important to know the conditions of your coverage; for instance, in some cases you’ll only be covered while abroad, meaning if you for any reason return to the U.S. temporarily, your insurance plan won’t cover you while you’re there.

If you don’t have student health insurance, you should consider purchasing an individual insurance plan specifically for study abroad students; you can check out some options on

Notify your bank

If you travel abroad without notifying your bank, you’ll run the risk of having your account temporarily frozen once you arrive and subsequently not being able to use your cards. While this can usually be rectified by a simple phone call, keep in mind that, unless you have an international phone plan, you may not yet have a working phone when you’re newly arrived.

Avoid any trouble by calling your bank before you leave to let them know that you’re going to be abroad, where you’re going, and how long you’ll be gone. They’ll be able to set up a travel notice during the duration of your trip so you won’t have to worry about having your card declined when you reach your host country.

Register for STEP

Regardless of where you’re going, it’s a good idea to register before you leave for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a program created by the U.S. Department of State that allows you to enroll with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you’ll be staying and receive any safety updates that they send out in the case of emergency.

If anything happens in your host country, they’ll send you information about what’s going on and how to stay safe. They’ll also be able to help your family and friends contact you if there’s an emergency.

By Christine Ascher

Uloop Writer
Hi! I'm Christine and I'm currently a senior at the University of Southern California, where I study English Literature, Economics, and French.

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