Preparing to Study Abroad

Leading up to a semester or year of studying abroad is an exciting, yet stressful time. Before this adventure, your time will be filled with choosing courses, buying plane tickets, making packing lists, and spending as much time with friends and family before heading off to a new country. If you’re jetting off soon, use the list below as a helpful tool for your study abroad planning. 

Image by  Ashim D’Silva  via Unsplash

Image by Ashim D’Silva via Unsplash

One to Two Months Before

  • Check the status of your study abroad visa if you require one for the country you're studying in

  • Make sure the courses you have pre-selected will transfer back to your home university as credits

  • Sort out all of your travel plans

    • If you haven't already booked your flight or train tickets, now would be a great time to do that

    • Figure out how you're going to get from the airport to the school or to where you’re staying

      • Are you being picked up by someone? Are you taking a bus to where you are going?

    • Where are you staying when you get there? Are you staying at a hostel, a hotel, with a host family, in a residence or in an apartment?

  • Check if you need vaccines for the country you are traveling to (some countries require these)

  • Research the country you are going to so you are aware of the traditions, the social norms, and common phrases

    • If you are studying in Sweden, the official website of Sweden has many great resources and links

    • Common phrases like hello, thanks, sorry, and where is (fill in location such as bathroom, train station, etc.) are good to be familiar with

  • If there are any buddy programs or local family match-up programs, use these resources to get to know the culture and the locals

  • Check the average temperatures during the seasons you’re travelling to plan out clothes you'll need

    • For example, if you're going in the winter to a cooler climate, decide if you'll want to bring a winter coat or buy it there

  • Create a packing list

  • Apply for study abroad scholarships

  • Start saving as much money as possible

2 Weeks Before

  • Let your country know that you will be living in another country by visiting your government’s website to register as a citizen abroad

  • Unlock your cellphone if you plan to use a SIM card in it abroad

  • Photocopy multiple copies of your important documents, including your passport, study visa, credit card, lease copies, acceptance letters from your abroad university and home university

    • Keep a set with you in your carry-on, a set at home, and email yourself a copy of each

  • Make a doctor's appointment to ensure your health is in great shape and refill your prescriptions

    • If you wear contact lenses, get extra pairs of them so you don't run out abroad

  • Get cash in your new country's currency

    • I took out about 1,500 SEK, which was just over $200 Canadian dollars, so it was enough for the train ride, food, and an emergency supply

  • Tell your bank where you're going, so you won't get stuck in a new country with no money

  • Pull that suitcase out and figure out how much space you have

    • I highly recommend using packing cubes, as they keep all of your items organized and prevent them from moving around in your suitcase, and they can double as laundry bags while you're away

    • Decide how many suitcases you’re using and what your carry-on luggage will be

    • The less you take, the better!

      • For my four-month semester, I took a large suitcase, a duffle bag and a large purse

One Week Before

  • Refine your packing list and start laying out the clothing and items you want to bring

    • Cut your initial list in about half, as you’ll need a lot less than you think

    • I ended up bringing about a quarter of my original packing list, and I only wore about half of the clothes I brought

  • Decide what you want to bring with you and what you want to buy there

    • Do you religiously use a certain type of shampoo and conditioner that are hard to find elsewhere? Bring those with you

    • If you’re comfortable switching things up, wait until you arrive to buy simple toiletries, and instead just pack mini versions in your carry-on for your travels (they're also helpful when you're staying in hostels if you decide to take trips while abroad)

    • If you’re studying in Europe and are planning on using North American hair tools, such as curling irons or blow dryers, wait to buy them in your destination country or bring a powerful converter, as the voltage is very different and you will probably ruin your hair tools otherwise

  • Double-check all of your travel plans (flights, where you're staying when you arrive, when your lease begins if you are renting, connection times, and anything else you have planned) so you don't end up missing a flight or have no bed to sleep in due to lack of preparation

  • Pack your extra photocopied documents in a folder, so they’re all kept together and in an easy place to reach

  • Buy a travel journal if you don't already have one so you can write down your feelings throughout your trip, and help fill your time while you're on a train or plane ride

  • Start packing! It's never too early to do this step, as it will be less stressful later if you are already prepared by packing items you aren’t going to use right before your trip

The Day Before

  • Confirm everything is packed and in its place

  • Carry about a week's worth of clothing onto the plane with you in case you have any issues with your luggage (always good to be prepared)

  • Say goodbye (for now) to your family and friends

The Day Of

  • Get up bright and early so you're ready to go and can start your day off on a relaxed note

  • Eat a hearty meal before so that you won't be hungry as you wait for your plane or train to arrive

  • Before you leave, make sure you have your passport, money, electronics and all important items in your carry-on, so they’re easily accessible

  • Get to the airport early, so you have time to relax before you head off on your adventure

    • Check in advance how much time you need to leave before the gates close, so you don't miss your flight

While this may seem like an overwhelming list of things you need to do, it is easily done if you take it a little bit at a time. You still have some time to prepare yourself, so start chipping away at each task in the order you prefer, and you'll be ready in no time. The most important thing to remember is to relax and enjoy yourself! While studying abroad, you are opening yourself up to new challenges, a new culture, and a seriously amazing experience, so don't forget to enjoy every moment. 

If you have studied abroad and have anything you'd like to add to this list, or any advice you have to prepare students for studying abroad, feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section below. Otherwise, I hope this list helps prepare you for an adventure of a lifetime!

For more study abroad advice and travel tips, check out my Pinterest board here.