Every year, hundreds of thousands of students travel abroad, and the number is steadily increasing.   According to the Institute of International Education, 241,791 students studied abroad in 2006-07, an increase of 150% from 1996-97.  That number may increase at an even faster rate because Congress is considering proposals that seek to increase the number of students studying abroad to 1,000,000 per year within the next decade. 

If you are a student planning to study abroad, you should know that studying abroad has many benefits.  But it also poses significant risks and challenges if you are unprepared.  Risks range from incidents with only short-term ramifications such as missed flights and lost passports to more serious dangers such as assaults or exposure to diseases.  All risks are not avoidable but you can take precautions to avoid these risks and prepare yourself to take the proper steps if you do face dangers while studying abroad.  This article aims to provide you with a comprehensive list of online resources to better prepare you for your studies abroad.

Plan Ahead: Preparations Before Leaving

Although studying abroad is a fun and rewarding experience that students typically complete problem-free, preparation is necessary to minimize the risks, and simply to make the trip happen.

You must choose the program that is right for you.  You should identify and diligently research the schools that offer the types of programs in the countries where you want to study.  It is important to consider a number of factors, including the available courses, how the course credits will transfer to your American institution, the type of housing available, where the program’s location, the languages spoken, and the true costs of the program, including travel costs.

There are many options to assist you in financing your trip, such as government funding, financial aid, and scholarships.  Millions of dollars in scholarships for international students go unused each year; there is a good chance that a scholarship may be available for the program that you are considering.

Before traveling, you should register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  This will make your whereabouts known in the event of an emergency arises and family or friends need to contact you. You should also check the CDC website and obtain any necessary vaccinations before traveling abroad.  These vaccinations can differ by country.  They may also be extensive, especially when you travel in equatorial countries or in Africa.  The CDC also advises students to obtain a stock of any necessary medications before they leave for their trip because procedures for obtaining and the availability of certain medications often differ drastically by country.




Your Study Abroad Checklist

1. Find a program and register for classes.

2. Find financing by, among other things, contacting university financial aid offices and researching outside scholarship   and fellowship opportunities.

3. Find housing.

4. Book your flights.

5. Investigate the health and safety offices for the program to ensure compliance with Center for Disease Control (“CDC��?) recommendations for vaccinations.

6. Ensure that friends and family at home have contact information for: the American consulate in the country where you are traveling, your program director in the United States, and your program director abroad.

7. Obtain a passport and visa. Make multiple copies of both documents, and give copies to your parents and keep extra copies with you while you are abroad.

8. Verify that you have proper medical insurance coverage. Research the necessary medical insurance information through your program, and ensure that you are covered by either university or private health insurance while abroad.

9. Familiarize yourself with basic laws of the country you are visiting, and research the legal process in that country.

10. Register yourself at the US embassy in your host country, and research the contact information with that embassy. Give this information to your family.

11. Research cellular phone and calling card options to make calls home and in the country you are visiting.

12. Learn the location of the closest hospital to your residence and school, and prepare for refills of any prescriptions you may need.

13. Get a complete physical

14. Research cultural attitudes abroad. Prepare for prevailing national sentiment toward Americans.

15. Enjoy!

Know Where You’re Going: Travel Advisories

When traveling abroad, you should be aware of the potential health, safety, and security risks that you may face in other countries. Many websites, identified below, offer travel advisory resources. For example, in April of 2009, the U.S. State Department issued a warning for U.S. citizens traveling to Georgia because of possible armed conflict and violent political protests. Travelers were also cautioned to avoid the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and to maintain contact with the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi.

Before studying abroad, you should also keep up to date on health advisories issued by national and international organizations. On June 3, 2009, the Center for Disease Control issued an alert regarding the expansion of yellow fever in Brazil. The CDC strongly recommended that travelers to the country get a yellow fever vaccine and take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Up-to-date security and health information can be found on the Center for Disease Control website, the State Department website, or the World Health Organization website. General research regarding the safety and history of a country can be found on the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA��?) website. Some helpful resources include:



Do the Paperwork: Passport and Visa Information

It’s important for you to be aware of important passport, visa and vaccination requirements before you travel, and to prepare yourself for the possibility of passport theft. These links should be helpful to procure visas and vaccinations, to locate the local United States embassy if a passport is stolen, the procedure required to obtain a new passport while abroad, and how to prevent passport theft from occurring. Make sure you always keep copies of your passport and visa, and never the originals, in your luggage.


Prepare for the Worst: Emergency Precautions

While studying abroad can be an enriching experience, you should be aware that adverse situations may arise, especially in less-developed countries where access to health-care and emergency services is limited. In 2007, eight University of Washington students contracted malaria and dengue fever while studying in Ghana and had to be MedEvac-ed out of the country. Before leaving, you should create an emergency management plan, and should know the emergency proceedings and contact information for their specific school or program. 

The state department website is helpful in finding physicians and hospitals in foreign countries in case of a medical emergency, while the state department recommends immediately requesting the assistance of the local American consulate in case of arrest.

The Office of American Citizen Services and Crisis Management, under the state department, can provide temporary financial assistance in case of unforeseen circumstances that occur while traveling. The following resources will be helpful in preparing for the various emergencies that can affect you while abroad:


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Published November 17, 2011 by